Mikhail Bakunin 1875

Letter to Élisée Reclus

Written: February 15, 1875;
Source: Bakunin on Anarchy, translated and edited by Sam Dolgoff, 1971.

February 15, 1875

YOU are right, the revolutionary tide is receding and we are falling back into evolutionary periods – periods during which barely perceptible revolutions gradually germinate... The time for revolution has passed not only because of the disastrous events of which we have been the victims (and for which we are to some extent responsible), but because, to my intense despair, I have found and find more and more each day, that there is absolutely no revolutionary thought, hope, or passion left among the masses; and when these qualities are missing, even the most heroic efforts must fail and nothing can be accomplished.

I admire the valiant persistence of our Jura and Belgian comrades, those “Last Mohicans” of the International, who in spite of all the obstacles and in the midst of the general apathy, obstinately set themselves against the current of events and continue to act as they did before the catastrophes, when the movement was growing and even the least efforts brought results.

Their labor is all the more praiseworthy in that they will not see the fruits of their sacrifices; but they can he certain that their labor will not be wasted. Nothing in this world is ever lost; tiny drops of water form the ocean.

As for myself, my dear friend, I am too old, too sick, and shall I confess it? – too disillusioned, to participate in this work. I have definitely retired from the struggle and shall pass the rest of my days in intense intellectual activity which I hope will prove useful.

One of the passions which now absorb me is an insatiable curiosity; having recognized that evil has triumphed and that I cannot prevent it, I am determined to study its development as objectively as possible...

Poor humanity! It is evident that it can extricate itself from this cesspool only by an immense social revolution. But how can this revolution come about? Never was international reaction in Europe so formidably organized against any movement of the people. Repression has become a new science systematically taught in the military schools of all countries. And to breach this well-nigh impregnable fortress we have only the disorganized masses. But how to organize them, when they do not even care enough about their own fate to know or put into effect the only measures that can save them? There remains propaganda; though doubtlessly of some value, it can have very little effect [in the present circumstances] and if there were no other means of emancipation, humanity would rot ten times over before it could be saved.

There remains another hope: world war. These gigantic military states must sooner or later destroy each other. But what a prospect!