Looking forward (July 2015)


“Chaque commentateur de Bakounine fait un choix.”
– Frank Mintz, Saint-Imier, 2012.

It’s been a while since I’ve done an update on the publishing side of the Bakunin Library project. Work on the Bakunin Reader inches along steadily, as I wrestle with the content of the introduction. At the same time, I am making yet another pass through the correspondence, as well as minor, fragmentary and lesser-known texts, comparing my rough plan for the various volumes of the Library against the available work and existing editions. I’ve been trying to balance my developing plan with the criticisms I have received, and most of all I have been trying to stay open to what I might discover in the process of putting that developing plan into practice. It’s sort of a crazy balancing act, and some of the recent posts here give some indication of the range of material that I’ve been exploring. But, slowly but surely, things are taking something like a final shape.

I was reading a French text not too long ago, in which the author said something along the lines of “every commentator on Bakunin makes a choice.” You’ll excuse the giggle that gave me, as truer words were perhaps never spoken. And one of the things I have been wrestling with lately is the likelihood that a certain amount of really useful material will not, finally, make it into the printed version of the Bakunin Library. It is not clear, for example, if there will be an opportunity to do a volume covering the years prior to 1861, to explore family correspondence, to revisit the previously translated Confession and Statism and Anarchy, or to do justice to Bakunin’s involvement in panslavism. And, given the approach we have chosen to take to the collection, the translation of much of the contextual material relating to Bakunin’s involvement in the First International ultimately depends on whether we can sustain the project long enough to include the translation of James Guillaume’s The International: Documents and Recollections.

At the same time, I feel more and more confident that simply presenting a deep selection of Bakunin’s own writings, from the years 1864-1876, constitutes a really significant step forward for anarchist scholarship and, at least potentially, also something of a theoretical challenge—and opportunity—for the anarchist movement. So many currents in the anarchist and libertarian socialist traditions claim descent from Bakunin and, in the English-speaking world at least, often on the basis of a surprisingly small portion of his work. In some ways, it has been easier to rediscover Proudhon, who has been largely dismissed and whose better work comes as something of an unexpected gift, than it may be to really come to grips with Bakunin, who has been so foundational for so many anarchists. My hope, however, is that if some people find that Bakunin was not, in fact, so clearly their precursor, others may find his thought unexpectedly familiar and welcome. Only time will tell, I suppose…

In the meantime, there is the question of arranging the print edition of the Library, and I can give a fairly clear picture, I think, of what folks can expect over the next few years.

As I have said, the texts for the initial Bakunin Reader are translated and the introduction is well underway. With just a touch of luck, we should see the finished product late in 2016. A new edition of God and the State, expanded to include some portions of The Knouto-Germanic Empire and the Social Revolution not previously collected in book form, as well as some discussion of the history of Bakunin’s works in translation, should be on roughly the same timetable. This second volume is intended as both a teaser of the complete edition of The Knouto-Germanic Empire and a sort of postmortem on an earlier era of Bakunin publishing. A Collectivism Reader, covering works by Bakunin’s comrades in the International, as well as some writings by later collectivists, such as Ricardo Mella, is the perpetual back-burner project for the moment, and will appear sometime not too many years down the road.

The main Bakunin Library volumes will include the two book-length works, Knouto-Germanic Empire and The Political Theology of Mazzini, with the first of those probably appearing in two volumes, with all of the projected appendices and some scholarly helps included. The remaining volumes have been largely constructed around major works of not quite book length. For example:

1864-66: “Principles and Organization of the International Revolutionary Society” (the “Revolutionary Catechism,” etc), together with the “Fragments concerning Freemasonry” (which anticipates many of the concerns of “Federalism, Socialism, Anti-Theologism”) and perhaps also an earlier “catechism.”

1867-68: “Federalism, Socialism, Anti-Theologism,” together with Bakunin’s speeches from the League of Peace and Liberty, correspondence, etc.

Those two volumes cover, potentially in considerable depth, the years prior to Bakunin’s most explicit embrace of anarchism and the development of his ideas about revolution and organization. Those will likely be followed by:

1868-69: A volume documenting the “International Alliance of Socialist Democracy”

1868-72: A volume specifically dedicated to Bakunin’s involvement in the International prior to the complete break with Marx

1870: The “Letter to a Frenchman,” “The Political Situation in France,” and correspondence relating to the Paris Commune and the Franco-Prussian War

1873-75: A volume dealing with the anti-authoritarian international, the Jura Federation and Bakunin’s final writings

A smaller volume dealing with Nechayev is possible, as are a couple of other small, more narrowly defined collections, and it is possible, if plans to translate Guillaume’s history go forward, that the three volumes dealing with the International and the Alliance might be condensed accordingly. Any number of other considerations might, of course, also have their say along the way. But what seems almost certain is that, in keeping with the initial Bakunin-centric focus, and in order to respond to some of the better recent French scholarship on Bakunin (some of which I will be introducing in the various introductions) this particular collected works will skew a bit earlier in its focus than some of the others, and will emphasize the steps by which Bakunin (who had shown sympathy for anarchistic ideas as early as 1848) gradually became more fully an anarchist.

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About Shawn P. Wilbur 2703 Articles
Independent scholar, translator and archivist.