UP TO the time of the Revolution of 1848 it may be said that Anarchism was chiefly a theoretical program and not a mass movement. In each country it had arisen because of different reasons and with different motives. Neither in England, Germany, nor the United States did it attain a mass base. What was toyed with theoretically in these two European countries was toyed with practically in America. Only in France did Anarchism develop into a mass movement of some strength. And the reasons for this situation are not hard to find.
Differing from Liberalism, Anarchism did not come into being in those countries where capitalism was steadily on the rise, conquering new markets, transforming little business men into big business men, industrializing the country, and, by means of social reforms, bribing sections of the working class. On the contrary, Anarchism arose in countries where the proletariat was not well developed, where it was swamped by peasant and petty- economy individualism, where the intellectual found himself choked, where the nation was not expanding rapidly but rather was stagnating or being pushed down into subordinate positions in the international competition, where big business men were losing their markets and little business men, far from prospering, were being ruined by competition. If Liberalism is the ideology of the hope of the middle sections of the population, Anarchism is the ideology of their desperation.
Even when Anarchism was not a mass movement, as in the days of Godwin or of Stirner, it is noteworthy that when these men were writing, England was in a life-and-death struggle with the French Revolution, capitalism in France had shown its tremendous and violently destructive force, the middle classes in Germany were feeling the pressure of international capital, and even in England the poverty and misery that was being brought into existence by capitalism was crying to heaven for vengeance. That is, even in those countries growing like England, which were predominantly Liberal, philosophical Anarchism could arise because the dark sides of capitalism were becoming ever more apparent. Of course, neither in England nor in the United States could Anarchism flourish as a great social movement, since tremendous advances were being made by these countries, and only optimism and hope could prevail. In Germany, Anarchism could not develop for the same reasons that Liberalism could not develop. As Germany passed through Liberalism it had to pass through Anarchism, its shadowy counterpart.
In France, on the contrary, Anarchism appeared as but the natural extension of Jacobinism, as the Commune had appeared to the National Convention in 1794, and thus, both as Jacobinism and in its own right, Anarchism had played a role in the French Revolution and in the traditions and life of the French nation. Further, by the middle of the nineteenth century, France was developing its industrial life at a sharp pace. The whole nation was now conscious of its backwardness as compared to England, how much power victorious competition could have achieved, and how little competition actually had brought. English goods, English factories, were battering down the French on the industrial field as American grain was battering down the French farmer on the agricultural. France, essentially a nation of small proprietors, had to fight for the life of the small proprietor both against big capital within the country and against international competition.
The Revolution of 1848 witnessed two great events. In the first place, it categorically demanded throughout Europe that the small proprietor take the lead in the revolutions to wipe out the remnants of feudalism. So far as middle Europe was concerned, there was no other class that could possibly do this. Therein lay the necessity for the petty bourgeoisie to develop a theory that would idealize the small man and restrain monopoly. Anarchism was the extreme reflection of its necessity.
The fact is that the petty bourgeoisie everywhere failed miserably to fulfill its mission. Cowardly it left the fighting to the workers in the city and itself pitifully ran away. Thus it could not but feel itself bankrupt. Anarchism was the reflection of its hopeless plight. Oppressed by the contradictions of capitalism and wanting to halt the forces which were ruining them, in the absence of a strong proletariat, these petty bourgeois elements could only embrace an Anarchism which, at first individualist, more and more turned into a collectivist type.
In the second place, at least in France, the proletariat not only supported the middle class but boldly took the leadership from the lower proprietors, and enunciating their communistic and socialistic theories, actually stormed the existing government and made an attempt for power. Here was a new class, a class that was not only against the big bourgeoisie but also against all forms of private property in the means of production. The lower middle classes, while in part allied to the proletariat, had to shrink from it and to separate themselves from the workers. Insofar as the petty bourgeoisie had to lean upon the workers for support, it could turn to collectivism; insofar as the workers actually took the lead and forced the middle class in their train, its Anarchism would be required to include communistic tendencies (and this is what actually developed in France); but insofar as the proletarian attempted to abolish all private property, he was forced to enter into opposition to the petty bourgeoisie, and Anarchism was compelled to engage in a bitter struggle with revolutionary Communism.
The Revolution of 1848 proved to be the swan song of the petty bourgeoisie, as a leading force. As the masses were constrained to break sharply from the bourgeoisie, Liberal Anarchism disappeared as hopeless, able to attract only a few literati and “philosophers.” In France, the masses, now opposed to capitalism as it was developing, were impelled to include in their Anarchism a hostile and collective character. Certain elements, hoping to outflank capitalism, thought that success lay in the co-operative movement. These groups merely echoed such theories as were being expressed by those then engaged in the Liberal Rochdale co-operative experimentation nursing the co-operatives of England into life, or in the similar movements in Germany and in France. Other groups moving closer to the proletariat imparted to their Anarchism a communistic and insurrectionary color.
Throughout the whole period from 1848 to 1871 the lower middle class still labored under the delusion that it was the class of the nation and that all other groups had to rally ‘round it and support it. The Paris Commune of 1871 marked the definite end of this period. From then on everyone knew that it was the proletariat and the proletariat alone that could challenge the ruling class and end the destructive effects of the capitalist system. The petty bourgeoisie was now forced to rely openly upon the working class, to enter the workers’ ranks and to try to give the toiling masses the impress of its own interests and ideology. It was when Communist-Anarchism penetrated the ranks of the working class that Anarchism was able to reach its highest influence in Anarcho-Syndicalism. And in entering into the ranks of the proletariat, Anarchism was able to capitalize heavily upon the opportunist sins of the more privileged sections of the workers.
France foreshadowed the history of other countries. There were other countries that were becoming capitalistic and yet were being choked by capitalism; there were other lands where the petty bourgeoisie was being driven into desperate action against the ruling class and in masses were entering the Anarchist movement. If Anarchism has remained prominent in such countries as Italy, Spain, the Balkans, Latin-America, etc. (and to some extent has arisen even in India and China) this has been because these countries have not developed basically beyond the 1848-1871 stage. There the proletariat is still relatively insufficient and is swamped by a petty bourgeois ideology and movement which are all the closer to it as the petty bourgeoisie itself becomes more revolutionary.
The collapse of the Revolution of 1848 marked a complete change of front on the part of Anarchism. The advance of the proletariat and the institution of the Communist movement had shown the middle class that either it must end its revolutionary career or ally itself closely to the workers. However, the workers had received a crushing defeat in the June Days. It had become crystal clear that if the workers fought alone they could not hope to win, especially in such countries as France where they were but a minority of the population. 1848 proved with iron logic the necessity of a close alliance between workers and petty bourgeois elements. But within this alliance who should lead? All tradition and history stood on the side of the middle class, peasantry, handicraftsman, plebeians who had fought in so many revolutions since 1789. It was natural, therefore, for the French to conclude that in this alliance the petty bourgeoisie must still have the dominant voice. At least, this was the opinion of many intellectuals and of the petty bourgeoisie itself, and was backed up by sections of workers who had only just emerged from the country into the city or from handicrafts into industry, or who, with the advance of capitalism, had been petty bourgeois themselves but recently turned proletarian.
In France contrary to England, certain sections of the working class with little difficulty could become receptive to anarchist tendencies. They could be highly skilled workers and handicraftsman whose conditions under capitalism were growing worse steadily. Or they might be workers in certain stagnant branches of luxury industry catering to the whims of the wealthy where production was on a small individual scale. Or they might be store clerks, porters, and such. (To these groups could be added certain white-collar employees.) Where the country was generally backward, the path of such workers to Anarchism was easier. Under other conditions, as in rapidly advancing industrial countries, such workers might turn to socialism (as they did in Germany). Austria furnished a classic example of both tendencies developing simultaneously. In the beginning of the workers’ movement there, in the middle and latter half of the nineteenth century, the Communist-Anarchists were strong; later the Socialists absorbed most of the Anarchists and practically liquidated the other movement.
Under the pressure of the necessity of the alliance between the workers and the lowest sections of the property owners, Liberal-Anarchism, which in France already had turned into a sort of petty bourgeois Socialistic- Anarchism, rapidly became, under Bakunin, Communistic ("Collectivist") Anarchism. Bakuninism flourished in the period between 1848 and 1871, that is, in the period between the great failure of the petty bourgeoisie, as a mass, to conquer power, and the first victory of the immature proletariat of France in taking and holding power in the Paris Commune. Within this same period, bourgeois democracy had gained decisive successes and had consolidated its power. The successful termination of the Italian Wars of Liberation and, before that, the defeat of Russia in the Crimean War, coupled with the later emancipation of the serfs, the American Civil War, and the Polish insurrection of 1863, all showed that the time was ripe for the placing on the international order of the day the struggle between capital and labor.
Labor was stepping close upon the heels of the industrialists. In 1864, the International Workingman’s Association (the First International) was organized with Karl Marx at the head. Although from 1864 to 1867 it was the English Trade Unionists who carried the day within the executive councils, whilst in the congresses themselves the Proudhonists of France had the majority, by 1868 Marx was able to assert his great authority. At once the First International assumed an increasingly militant character.
In the meantime Bakunin, militant democrat in 1849, had become so impressed with the movement of the workers that he had swung violently to the Left. In 1864 he was in Italy preaching materialism, popular revolution, and free communes, and organizing his “International Brotherhood.” By 1868 this had expanded into an International Alliance of Social Democracy, and in 1869, after winning influence in Italy, Spain, and Portugal, he applied for admission into the First International. It was then that Bakunin averred in his letters that he had become a Marxist, but a Marxist in “economics” and not in “politics.”
Bakunin was the real heir of Hebert and the French Enrag’es, of 1793- With the same detestation as that of Hebert, he railed against Robespierre and the Jacobins as having been the head of the doctrinaire State which had killed the Commune. (*1) Between the revolutions of 1848 and 1871, some Jacobins turned to Communism and, under Blanqui, were carrying forward the traditions of Babeuf. Bakunin, therefore, was forced into a struggle against Blanquism as part of his struggle against the Jacobin tradition.
Bakunin was far from being an internationalist proletarian revolutionary. He never lost the bias of a Russian aristocrat. Although he fought in the Revolution of 1848-1849 in Dresden and for Bohemian independence, he did so as a Pan-Slavist and in the pay of the Pan-Slav parties, with a bitter hatred for the Germans. When he advocated the formation of Communes in Italy, it was precisely at a time when progressive Italian forces were laboring so hard for unification and when the isolated city-state in Italy was playing right into the hands of the merchant princes and corrupt oligarchies prevailing there. As with Proudhon’s Federalism in France, Bakunin’s Communes in Italy could only imply a step backward.
It was quite natural that Bakunin should win support among sections of the workers in the Italian towns. In Italy and in Spain, among the toilers there dominated precisely those sections which could easily turn to Anarchism. Traditionally bound to their particular city or locality, where economy had stagnated for centuries, stimulated by the roles of the proletariat in France and in England, and understanding well that they were the class of the future, bitterly ground down as were even the best of them, these workers were eager and ready for the struggle. They did not wish to win over the majority of the country. In fact, it were better for the proletarian if he separated himself from the rest of the country which was still dominated by agricultural interests, which he despised, and of which the main representative was the peasant whom he considered a doomed dolt. It is easy to see how these impatient sections of a working class, still too weak to take power and yet believing that the proletarian revolution was the order of the day, would look with alarm at the movement to centralize the government and would consider it a step which could only consolidate the power of the enemy against them. It was possible to defeat the capitalists and oppressors of a single city far more quickly than to overthrow the ruling class of an entire country. And later the Paris Commune itself seemed to bear them out.
Further, at a time when the mass of petty bourgeois elements in Italy appeared carried away by Garibaldi and Mazzini and were fighting under the banner of Cross and Crown, it was extremely easy for the advanced sections of the proletariat to draw away from such reactionary manifestations and to react in just the opposite manner, that is, to raise the banner of atheism and popular revolution against the State. Unable to defend the local State as an instrument of oppression, the weight of which they had fully experienced, and thoroughly hostile to the central State, these elements were forced to declare their open hostility to all States and to demand their immediate abolition. In Italy, Anarchism was not so much a development of Liberalism, as it had been in America, for example, but a reaction against it. When, through Mazzini, even Liberalism was showing certain Fascist characteristics, it was not for proletarian Anarchism to go along a Liberal direction. And at a time when even Liberalism was preaching the coup d’e’tat and insurrection, Anarchism could not remain far behind.
So was it with Spain. There the protracted struggle to rid the country of the Moors, the extremely sharp turn in the fortunes of Spain leading to decay and desuetude, coupled with the fact that capitalism was reviving again in the nineteenth century, had made the field very ripe for federalist propaganda for local autonomy and Communes in which the proletariat would control. In both Italy and Spain, Bakuninist Anarchism, however, could play ultimately only into the hands of the reactionaries.
With Bakunin, Anarchism took upon itself the task of the immediate abolition of the State by means of violence. Having no firm class at hand with which to make the attack, Bakunin conceived that it was not necessary to wait until such a class should be formed by the development of capitalism itself, but that a small “militant minority,” a group of the “e’lite,” could form a conspiracy and overthrow the State and thus abolish force and coercion of man over man once and for all. With Bakunin appears the Anarchist of “the deed.” “War against the State” became the battle-cry, and Bakunin and his fellow idealists waged a life-long struggle for the abolition of the State in order to establish a collectivist society.
Here, then, was the difference between Bakunin and Proudhon, a division marked by the Revolution of 1848 itself. Proudhon was religious, Bakunin was atheistic; Proudhon advocated peaceful evolution, Bakunin appealed for immediate violent insurrection; Proudhon relied upon the middle class, Bakunin tried to rely upon sections of the workers; Proudhon preached producers’ co-operative and mutual harmony of all propertied interests, Bakunin spoke against private property and for Communist collectivism; Proudhon calculated on using the State for his Bank, Bakunin demanded the State’s immediate abolition; while Proudhon denied the value of any organizational discipline whatsoever, Bakunin organized a tightly disciplined conspiratorial clique for the seizure of power.
In the early nineteenth century, Anarchism had been bourgeois, and in the middle of the century, petty bourgeois. With Bakunin it was the proletarian close to the petty bourgeois who was to be the controlling factor.
Although garnished with Communist phrases, the revolutionary movement led by Bakunin was really Liberal-Radicalism turned upside down. Like the Liberal-Radical and directly contrary to the Marxist, the Bakuninist was absolutely unable to distinguish between primary and secondary causes, between the basic structure of society and the superstructural framework built upon it. The elements behind Bakunin were unable to perceive the laws of evolution and their contradictory results. They became hopelessly lost. Instead of understanding that political and social conflicts flowed from the economic system of capitalism, they tried to overthrow the effects of capitalism, before capitalism itself had become historically exhausted, and before it had produced its proletarian grave-diggers.
Bakunin wanted to overthrow the tyrant, the State, which to him became a veritable B’ete-noir. Linked to the State was the Church, with its ideology of religion, and the whole system of authority by which the masters ruled over the masses. The problem became: How to overthrow those social forces produced and supported by capitalism when one could not overthrow capitalism itself? It was this problem that the proletarian elements, swayed by petty bourgeois revolutionary Anarchists, could never solve. Thus, while posing as materialists and uttering bitter invectives against God, religion, and prevalent morality, the Bakuninists proved themselves to be but idealistic rationalists, inventing their own dogma and religion.
We have seen that Liberalism had brought God down from the heavens and sheltered him in the breast of man. Petty bourgeois Liberalism had even reached a materialism in which, instead of an eternal God, there was Humanity, and everywhere religions of Humanity had sprung up. Of this Humanity, the individualist Anarchists, like Stirner, had made merely an aggregation of many egos, each one a god unto itself. In this respect both the Anarchists and the democratic Liberals were at one in agreeing that orthodox religion could be fought “with one’s head,” i.e., by means of reason. Like the priest or minister, the Bakuninist believed that people acted and history was made because of religious motives. But whereas to the priest or minister, religious motives were “good,” to the Anarchist, religion and the church had to be abolished as “bad"; whereas, to the one, religion had to be conserved, to the other, it had to be destroyed as the main enemy of mankind, together with the State.
In believing that mankind was moved to act not by materialist interests but by religious motives, the Bakuninist exposed himself as the inverted Liberal rationalist that he was. Thus, to Bakunin, the masses were oppressed because they were ignorant, and if their ignorance were wiped out, all injustice would be abolished. If only the people were enlightened by “Reason"! The Bakuninist did not agree that mind was controlled by economic desires. But if mind is not so controlled, have we not here the theory of the superiority of mind over matter, of spirit over body, the basis of all religion? The atheism of Bakunin thus, in spite of the man himself, allowed religion to creep in. The Anarchist Bakuninist was after all, then, only a religious atheist.
Similarly with the Bakuninist’s ethical views. He was against dogma and authority in general, but he set up his own dogma and authority. He scorned all ethics and all morality except those in the name of “true justice," "true ethics” and a “morality” of his own as eternal and unchanging as the ones he wished to overthrow. Here the Anarchist was simply an unmoral moralist. To the Anarchist “property is robbery,” something wrongfully acquired, something thus immoral. The Anarchist wanted to right this wrong and to end this immorality. But what was this but a new system of morality? Thus, whether examining Proudhon, Bakunin, or Kropotkin, we must iterate that the petty bourgeois—whether reformist-Liberal or Anarchist-revolutionary, whether prosperous or ruined—remains a petty bourgeois to the end and can escape neither from religion, idealism, individualism, nor from morality.
When the Liberal, like John Stuart Mill, announced a theory of the necessity of change, he wanted change to come slowly; the Anarchist wanted a revolutionary change at once but never raised a theory of change. The Liberal could at least follow Hegel and declare that ideas undergo an evolution. With Proudhon, there was not only no evolution of ideas, there was no idea of evolution; with Bakunin, nothing evolves, but only changes take place. In short, while with the Liberal there was announced a theory of evolution without change, with the Anarchist there was announced a great change without evolution, motion without movement. Philosophic “revolutionary” Anarchism and American pragmatism had much in common.
Considering the philosophic method of revolutionary Anarchism, we can state, to sum up the contrast between it and Liberalism, that all the factors which Liberalism considered important and would preserve, Bakuninism also considered important but would abolish. Bakunin’s was no fundamental critique of the powers that be. He saw but the “bad side” of what the Liberal saw the “good side"; he was but the mechanical reaction to the action of the other. Thus, in respect to the programmatic method, the revolutionary Anarchist could hardly be called revolutionary. His Anarchism was merely an antithesis, an opposition.
The Anarchist considered the State his enemy, but he never analyzed the origin, role and character of the State. This was left for the Marxists to do. This difference was well elucidated by Friedrich Engels in a letter to Theodore Cuno: “Bakunin has a peculiar theory of his own, a medley of Proudhonism and communism, the chief point of which is in the first place that he does not regard capital, and therefore the class contradiction between capitalists and wage earners which has arisen through social development, as the main evil to be abolished—instead he regards the state as the main evil. While the great mass of the Social-Democratic workers hold our view that state power is nothing more than the organization with which the ruling classes, landlords and capitalists have provided themselves in order to protect their social prerogatives, Bakunin maintains that it is the State which has created capital, that the capitalist has his capital only by favor of the state. As, therefore, the state is the chief evil, it is above all the state which must be done away with and then capitalism will go to hell of itself. We, on the contrary, say: do away with capital, the appropriation of the whole means of production in the hands of the few and the state will fall away of itself. The difference is an essential one. Without a previous social revolution the abolition of the state is nonsense; the abolition of capital is in itself the social revolution and involves a change in the whole method of production.” (*2)
Bakunin’s view of the State as a creator of capital was not as wild as it might appear to a Western Marxist, for it is a fact that such a situation actually did prevail in Russia. After the Crimean War it was the Russian State that introduced and hastened the development of modern industrial capitalism. (*3) Bakunin was here again only exposing his Russian national limitedness.
The Bakuninists naively believed that they could abolish the State at one blow. This led to a wrong strategy and tactics. The revolutionary Anarchists saw the State as a small minority oppressing the vast number of other individuals. What else was necessary, then, but to organize a conspiracy to overthrow the existing State and to proclaim freedom for all? For revolutionary Anarchism it was always time to “abolish the State.”
In this manner, these desperate, ruined elements and immature proletarians, unable to wait until the proletariat could firmly arise and become a decisive factor in the revolution, impotent to conceive of a revolution actually made by the proletariat as a class, but with firm faith that a revolution could be made for the proletariat, lost all sense of proportion. They relied upon student adventurers and declassed groups of all sorts (sometimes not unmixed with the slum elements of the city), completely failing to understand the connection between politics and economics, between a given material environment and the State and Church produced by such an environment. Fighting Church and State with the head, that is, with “Reason,” they could only lose their heads. The limit of their horizon was the conspiracy leading to the coup d’e’tat.
To these people, believing in the coup d’e’tat, the masses were not necessary. The ruling class was but a minority, why could not the suppressed classes produce another minority, a militant elite, intelligent and brave, perhaps made up of the sporting student, who could pull humanity up to its level, even if it had to do so by the hair?(*4)
Strange as it may seem, this theory of contempt for the masses, borrowed from the master class, had a side very appealing to certain groups of workers, namely to those workers who saw clearly the necessity for a revolution and who did not desire to wait any longer. “Wait,” always "wait"; had they not waited long enough for their emancipation? It was this revolutionary impatience which was embodied in the Communism of Auguste Blanqui and was exemplified in the Commune of 1871 in Paris and in Carthegena, Spain, in 1873. It was the same with the Bakuninists. There is here no question of the bravery and revolutionary ardor of these men and of the contribution that they made in their day.
Connected with all this was the practice of individual terror, bomb throwing, assassination, etc., against officials who too monstrously expressed the brutality of the State forces of repression. (*5) The policy behind these actions was best enunciated by the Russian disciple of Bakunin, Netschajeff: “Without sparing our lives, we must break into the life of the people with a series of rash, even senseless, actions, and inspire them with a belief in their powers, awake them, unite them, and lead them on to the triumph of their cause.” (*6) But to this desperate method of stimulation there was also combined the hope that, by means of individual terror, the ruling class could be frightened to yield its hold, and historic forces could be stopped by the action of the individual hero. Here, too, we cannot deny that some extremely heroic and intelligent men and women went down in the defeat of this program.
In many places, with terrorism went banditry in the name of the fight against the State and the master class. Having raised the slogan, “Property is robbery,” it was perfectly justifiable for the Anarchists to expropriate the expropriators and to rob the robbers. This was triply true where the robbery was directed against the State for the purpose of aiding the treasury of the conspiracy. But it was also correct where it was directed against the individual bourgeois, and this theory was directly connected with Bakunin’s implication that the robber and slum proletarian could be made into elements to compose his group.
Certainly it is true that “crime against property” (robbery, etc.) is a reflection of the class struggle in the sense that it is often the sole way taken by the backward but aggressive worker to strike back at his exploiters. The “crime” often shows a spirit of revolt, of protest, a desire to break the chains of slavery, but the result is such as to lead to the fastening of the chains ever more tightly. The practice of such a “criminal” is but the crude expression of the theory of individual protest of the Anarchist.
The whole political strategy and tactics of the Anarchists, even the most revolutionary ones, were linked up with their denial of the theory of classes. There existed, to be sure, oppressors and oppressed, but not exploited and exploiters. The revolutionary Anarchist, tolerating no authority, could not tolerate the authority and discipline of classes, either. If the Liberal would harmonize classes, the Anarchist would blow them to individual atoms. Capitalist, worker, farmer, banker, exploiter and exploited, all of them could equally represent Anarchism and take part in its activities. It was only when the working class grew to great size as a matter of fact, developing powerful socialist parties and causing the minute efforts of the Anarchists to look ridiculous that the Anarchists began to turn into Anarcho-Syndicalists, to enter into the trade unions of the working class, and to favor the general strike. But this was beyond the pale of the Bakuninists.
In spite of the fact that the International Alliance had adopted the following program: “The Alliance declares itself atheist; it desires the definitive and entire abolition of classes and the political equality and social equalization of individuals of both sexes. It desires that the earth, the instrument of labor, like all other capital, shall become the collective property of society as a whole, shall be no longer able to be utilized except by the workers, that is to say, by agricultural and industrial associations… States … must disappear, …” (*7) the entrance of Bakunin was bitterly fought by Marx, who well understood the nature and character of that organization. It was only upon the dissolution of the Alliance, as such (although it was secretly kept up by Bakunin), that the individual sections were taken into the First International. Soon a bitter struggle broke out within the First International between the Marxists and the Bakuninists, culminating, after the defeat of the workers in the Paris Commune and the weakening of the First International, with the expulsion of the Bakuninist section and the gradual dissolution of the International itself. The Bakuninists never recognized the power of the body to expel them, and carried on their own congresses up to that of 1878, the last congress until the one revived by Kropotkin in 1881.
Between Bakunin and Kropotkin stood the Paris Commune of 1871. Like a mighty flare lighting the road for the weary and footsore proletarians and toilers of the world, the Commune became a beacon signal for all revolutionaries, scattering its sparks in all directions. It raised as its chief demand the absolute autonomy of the Commune to be extended to all the localities of France, insuring to each its rights and to every Frenchman the free exercise of his powers as man, citizen, and laborer. To assure the unity of France, all of the Communes were linked together in a common association. The inherent rights of each Commune were to be: responsibility for the municipal budget and taxes; administration of all local services and the property of the Commune; the organization of the courts, police, and education; the election, control, and recall of all judges and functionaries; the absolute guarantee of individual liberty of conscience and freedom to work; the control over co-operation of citizens; and finally, the organization of the defense of the city and of the National Guard, which was to elect its officers and which alone was to be responsible for order. (*8)
Unlike the Italians, the French had suffered greatly, not from lack of unity, but from the over-centralization of the bourgeois regime. By means of this excessive centralization, Paris had been politically subordinated to the countryside; in reaction to this, the program of the Paris Commune, while affirming the emancipation of Paris, had failed to state the obligations that each city was to have to the nation as a whole. This was a great blunder, as it gave the opportunity to the Versaillese to raise the cry that the Communards were trying to separate the cities from the Fatherland and that Paris was trying to abandon France. While it was true that the countryside had to be guided by the towns, and the towns by Paris, the immature proletariat of Paris showed by its program that it had not as yet fully appreciated the necessity of finding allies in the countryside under penalty of defeat. (*9)
These actions of the Commune played directly into the hands of the Collectivist Anarchists, the Proudbonists, and Bakuninists. Indeed, the Proudhonists played a very great role in the Paris Commune and, as members of the First International, were able to unite with the Blanquist Communist intellectuals (who were outside the International) and to cover themselves with immortal glory. In the latter years of the Second Empire, while Proudhon himself had been moving rapidly to the Right, the Proudhonists had grown in influence, had steadily gravitated to the Left, and, under the guidance of Marx, had become more and more revolutionary, even though they remained confused and muddled to the end. After the defeat of the Proudhonists as leaders within the First International in 1868 by Max, and their yielding to Marxism, the International had grown so rapidly that two hundred thousand Frenchmen had become members, most of them in Paris itself.
As noted, Proudhon had preached a sort of socialism which had become very attractive to the French workers. The opposition of Prudhon to unionism and to strikes was not regarded as thoroughly vitiating his ideas. In the final analysis, Proudhon’s attack on the trade unions had been only a reflection of the condition in France. It was in France, above all, where the workers had many political traditions but few strikes, that the class struggle had been enunciated so sharply and dramatically in actual insurrections, yet where modern industry had arisen so belatedly that the workers were only just beginning to adopt trade unionism. The limitations of a trade unionism based upon craft divisions, whose origin was mutual aid associationship, were clearly seen by those whose fathers had given their lives upon the revolutionary barricades and whose immediate problem was the extrication of the nation from the havoc of the Franco-Prussian War. After all, Proudhon himself had behaved well and with honor in the actual revolution of 1848 and this the French proletariat would always remember.
To the Proudhonists, the Paris Commune was the exemplification of that collectivist individualism and federalism which they had been advocating so long. To the Bakuninists, it illustrated the necessity for the coup d’etat and insurrection.
1. See Bakunin: God and the State, pp. 79-80 (1915 edition). Significantly enough. however, Bakunin had great praise for Mazzini.
2. The Correspondence of Marx and Engels (International Edition, p. 319).
3. See L. D. Trotsky: 1905 (no English edition available) for an interesting analysis of this Russian development.
4. “Revolutions, we must remember, are always made by minorities, and even when a revolution has begun, and a part of the nation accepts its consequences, there is always only a very small minority who understands what still remains to be done to assure the triumph of what has been obtained, and who have the courage of action. This is why an Assembly, always representing the average of the country, or rather something below the average, has always been, and will always be, a check upon revolution; it can never be an instrument of revolution.” (P. Kropotkin: The Great French Revolution, I. 260-261.)
So, Down with the Assembly! up with a new “eternal” reason, not only because the Assembly checks the individual but because it checks the revolution!
5. We must keep in mind that the Terrorism of all those who are against the State does not necessarily have anything to do with Anarchism. Russian Nihilism, for example, was not Anarchism, but part of the revolutionary populist movement in that country flourishing in the late nineteenth century. Germany has given us many examples of Fascist terror against State officials, and Japan, militarist terror.
6. Quoted by Zenker: Anarchism, p. 169.
7. Given in Bertrand Russell: Proposed Roads to Freedom, p. 44
8. See E. S. Mason: The Paris Commune, pp. 257-258.
9. See Lissagaray: History of the Commune of 1871, for criticism of this program.