Michael Bakunin: A Biographical Sketch (London, 1862)

(A Biographical Sketch.)
Bakunin is in London! Bakunin, buried in dungeons, lost in Eastern Siberia, re-appears in the midst of us, full of life and energy. Redivivus et ultor, we might say, with Pougatscheff, were not Bakunin and ourselves, too much occupied to waste time in thoughts of vengeance. Bakunin returns more hopeful than ever, with redoubled love for the Russian people. He is invigorated by the sharp, but healthy, air of Siberia.
Is it that spring approaches? Old friends return to us from beyond the Pacific Ocean. How many images, how many shadows, rise from the dead with Bakunin. We observe, with closer attention, what passes in the East of Europe, on the shores of the Danube. We seem once more to hear the crack of a mosaic empire that is falling, we hear the murmur of the waves of the Slavonic world, and see dismembered Poland re-unite around Warsaw, and extend—forgetting the past—a fraternal hand to the Russian people, free, also, from the yoke of absolutism.
The dreams of 1848! Yes, dreams, but give only two or three such years, and the dreams of 1848 will be realised from the Straits of Messina to the Vistula, the Volga, and the Oural. The year 1848 is not dead, it has only changed its place.
The activity of Bakunin—previous to the fortress of Koanigstein—was philosophical and abstract in Moscow, revolutionary in general and socialist in Europe; henceforth we hope it will be Slavo-Russian. We will speak of this at length, on a future occasion; at present, we touch briefly the details of his past career.
Bakunin left Russia in 1841. In 1845 he was involved in the trial of the Swiss socialists. Blunchl pointed him out to the Russian government, and he was ordered to return immediately. He did not return; the Senate deprived him of his rank as an officer, and his rights of nobility; he then went to Paris.
It was there Bakunin pronounced his celebrated speech to the Poles, on the 29th November, 1847—the anniversary of the insurrection at “Warsaw. For the first time, a Russian was seen to offer a hand of brotherhood to the Poles, and renounce publicly the government of Petersburg. The speech, had an immense effect. Guizot expelled Bakunin from Paris; but he had scarcely reached Brussels, when Paris expelled Guizot and Louis Philippe from France. Bakunin returned to Paris, and passionately threw himself into the new political life which then began. The Lamartine and Marast government beheld, with evil eye, the men who accepted the republic in earnest, and was glad to be rid of them in any manner, provided they did not remain in France. It was a relief when Bakunin prepared to depart. But a new era had commenced,—a Slavo-Polish Congress had assembled at Breslau. There Bakunin was active; and even more so afterwards at the Congress of Prague, where, indeed, he was not the only Russian. He wrote his social Slavonic programme, which the checks have not yet forgotten; he acted with the Slavonians until Windisehgraetz dispersed the Congress with Austrian cannon. Quitting Prague, Bakunin made an attempt, in opposition to Palack, to unite the Slavonian democrats with the Hungarians, who sought their independence, and with the German revolutionists. Into this union many Poles entered, and the Hungarians sent Count Teleki. Bakunin, wishing to confirm this union by example, took the command at the defence of Dresden, and acquired a glory which even his enemies have not denied. He retired, after the taking of Dresden by the Prussians. At Themnites he was seized by treachery, with two of his companions, and from that time commences his long martyrdom.
Bakunin was condemned to death by the Saxon tribunals—a sentence commuted by the King to that of perpetual imprisonment. In May, 1850, he was sent, chained, to Prague. The Austrian government desired to extort from him the secrets of the Slavonian movement; he refused to answer. He was left for a year at Gratz, and the question was not renewed. In May, 1851, terrified by the report of a design to liberate Bakunin, the government transferred him to Olmutz, where he passed six months chained to the wall. Afterwards, Austria delivered him to Russia. It was said, that on the frontier the fetters should be removed from his hands and feet. Nicholas was not so delicate; the Austrian chains were taken off, as imperial property; but they were replaced by native irons, of twice the weight. Bakunin passed three long years in the fortress of Alexis, and he left in 1854 for Schlusselbourg. Nicholas feared that Sir Charles Napier might set him free.
Alexander re ascended the throne; he published several unsatisfactory, half amnesties—of Bakunin, not the word. His Majesty deigned even to efface his name from the list. Bakunin’s mother petitioned the Emperor, who replied with affability, “As long as your son lives, Madame, he will never be free.” In 1857, Bakunin was sent to Eastern Siberia.
In 1860, a fresh attempt was made to obtain for Bakunin permission to return to Russia. His Majesty again refused, assigning as the motive for his severity, a letter written by Bakunin, in 1851, and adding, “I see in him no sign of remorse.” However, the emperor granted him the right of entering the service as an employee in the Chancery, of the 4th order—a particular class of copyists,—Bakunin could not profit by this imperial grace of the 4th order. After eight years’ imprisonment, and four years’ exile, he had to look forward still to a long series of dreary years in Siberia.
A new flame was kindled throughout Russia; Austria vanquished and in retreat, the Italian flag unfurled at Milan, Bakunin tells us with what eagerness he followed, at Irkutsk, the movements of Garibaldi, as the peninsula grew brighter and brighter in the light of liberty, to remain, at 47 years of age, and with his pulse in full vigour, a tame and distant spectator of events, was impossible; he had expiated long enough his faith in the possibility of a union with the German democrats. He determined to escape from Siberia. Under pretext of a commercial affair he reached the Amour, and an American clipper conveyed him to Japan, undoubtedly the first political refugee who had ever there sought shelter. Thence he arrived at San Francisco, crossed the Isthmus of Panama, and came to New York. On December 26th he landed at Liverpool, and on the 27th was with us in London.
For the present, let us conclude with the strong hope that the Emperor’s prediction that the peasants shall have “no other liberty than that which they possess,” may be put to the proof as speedily as the prediction concerning the liberty of Bakunin.—From A RUSSIAN CORRESPONDENT.
The Working Man. II, 23 (March 1, 1862) 65-67.
About Shawn P. Wilbur 2702 Articles
Independent scholar, translator and archivist.