Mikhail Bakunin in “The Working Man” (1862)

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HE Committee of the “Working Man,” on Tuesday, the 7th of January, having been informed that Michael Bakunin had arrived in London, a deputation was appointed to go and present to this martyr of human progress an address of welcome.

On Friday, the 10th, accordingly the deputation waited upon Alexander Herzen, the celebrated Russian exile and “publiciste,” who introduced them to Bakunin, surrounded by a goodly staff of Russians, Poles, &c, all friends of progress, united by the brotherly love for one common mother—Liberty.

The following address was then read:—

The Committee of the “Working Manto the illustrious Michael Bakunin.

Whilst the oppressors of the human race are busy in forging instruments of destruction and are exciting men to the hatred of each other, we, working men of England, have become conscious at last that the cause of human freedom and happiness is identical under every sky, and that it is only by the union of all the friends to that sacred cause that its success can be insured. Whilst, therefore, our tyrants excite our deluded brethren to “War, Competition, and Hatred, we want to raise a cry for peace, Association, and Fraternal Love.

In the same way, as when the eagle soars high above the clouds, his piercing eyes embrace an immense range where to choose his prey. We have raised ourselves to the high sphere of philosophy, we have been enabled to survey the whole of our common abode—the earth, and we have counted our friends—the friends of liberty, of labour, of justice.

“We have seen them all heroically contending against our enemies—ignorance, superstition, despotism, competition, exploitation of labour, slavery—and our hearts have been elated with proud joy. Amongst those whom we distinguished from the crowd, you, Bakunin, stood among the highest, by your courage, your undaunted energy, and your sufferings. “We saw you handed from one tyrant to the other, as if each succeeding one was afraid to keep such a prey too long in his hands; at last, we heard you had been sent to the deadly mines of Siberia—a torture that even Dante could not invent for his Hell. We had gone into mourning for a brother lost, for one of our guiding stars dropped from our heaven of hope, when lo!—can we believe the report?—we heard that you had baffled all their cunning, broken through all their meshes, that you were free! No, it cannot be; for who can come back from Siberia? We might as well hope to see Prometheus break his chains, and fling them at his torturing vulture.

But no, it is true! Bakunin is free! he has landed in America—he is in London.

Prometheus can break his chains. Vultures, your fate is now doomed! Ply, and leave us free to love one another, and to labour for all.

Bakunin, welcome in the land of freedom. We have forgotten the lessons of our oppressors, who tried to teach us to look upon men as foreigners, as enemies, because they were born on another land, or because they spoke another language, or because their skin was not exactly the same colour as yours. We have felt the warmth of their hearts, and the loving grasp of their hands, and we have called them brothers.

Brother Bakunin, welcome to England.

Brother Herzen, you have lived already a long time among us; you know our customs, you will guide him and comfort him, and when he will have rested himself from his fatigues, we will, as our forefathers used to do, form a circle around him, and he will tell us the wonderful tale of his struggles, and then you both will help us in our search after truth. The land where you were born, is we think, unknown to us. The customs and struggles of your countrymen we want to be acquainted with; for in the examination of the great problem of labour, which we have undertaken, we want all the light that men like you can give us.

Bakunin, Herzen, we tender you the right hand of fellowship. ,

On behalf of the Committee,

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The Deputation:—

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A. C. Cuddon, Chairman.
W. Turnbull.
H. Baker.
W. P. Wallace.
G. Hill.
G. E. Harris, Secretary.


Bakunin then answered as follows:—

Friends,—I am deeply moved by this manifestation of your sympathy, which I did not hope to have deserved. I ascribe it to the democratical instinct which enables you to recognize a friend, even in a man of a foreign race, because a friend devoted to our common cause. And, indeed, as long as I recollect, I have been passionately devoted to the cause of social and economical emancipation of mankind; I have not succeeded in doing much. Imprisonment and exile have taken from me twelve years of my life and activity. But all that remains in me of life and strength will be devoted to our great cause. The time is come when the Russian people, who have slept so long, are awakening, and will not go to sleep again. “We Russians know how much depends upon this struggle for the emancipation of labour, but we know also that its strength is not destructive, but productive. We are persuaded that the Russian element will bring a new idea into the great social question, and that it will, in its turn, stand in the rank of all nations which tend towards the fullest emancipation of mankind, and offer a brotherly hand to those working for our common cause.

The hearty congratulations then became general.

Michael Bakunin, Alexander Herzen, and several other gentlemen, then entered into explanations as to the economical and political organization of Russia, which, when we reproduce them in our columns (as they have promised to contribute articles upon those subjects) will rather startle our readers.


(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 Koenigstein—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.


(To the Editor of the Working Man”)

Sir,—I was pleased to see in your last issue a letter headed “Socialism on the Defensive,” and it appears to me high time it should be so. Human sympathy will not for ever tolerate the present unjust state of society. My attention having been called to an article in the Free Press (or “Foul Press”) for March, I felt myself somewhat compromised, if I remained quiet and allowed the libelling accusation against Bakunin to pass unnoticed. I therefore deemed it a duty incumbent upon me to communicate with the parties implicated, in order to set myself right with them, and they with the public. Of all men, none are so persecuted as the Socialists, not so much for their “crimes” as for their indomitable courage and virtues; hence it is that some men who wield the editorial “goose” quill cannot see how, in the present state of society, an honest man may be a dangerous man.

Whether the writer of the article in question is himself a “Russian agent” or “Government spy” I will not pretend to divine; but of this I am quite certain, that when he attacks others, his Russiamania renders him dangerous without being honest. As a working man, and one of those who were elected on’the deputation to greet Bakunin on his arrival in London with an address of condolence for the many sacrifices he had made for the cause of labour, and to bid him wait and hope for the future, I trouble you with this and the accompanying replies of Herzen and Bakunin. I express my confidence in these men, repudiating at the same time their accuser, and trust to find insertion for this in the truest of journals, the free Working Man.

Yours faithfully,

One Of The Deputation.

March 13, 1862.

Sir,—I thank you sincerely for your important communication. I need not tell you that the accusation against Bakunin is the most vile and infamous of calumnies—issued, very likely, from the same source from which accusations of the same nature were put forth against Kossuth and Mazzini.

I will communicate it to Bakunin, and forward you an answer after the perusal of the original articles in the Free (?) Press.

I am, Sir, yours respectfully,

A. Herzen.

March 10, 1862.

Sir,—My friend Herzen has communicated to me your kind letter and the infamous articles which an anonymous writer (paid or unrewarded) has written on me in the Free Press.

I thank you sincerely for drawing my attention to it. I will not condescend to refute this tissue of lies. There are rectifications which one does not make with the pen in the hand, but with the hand without the pen.

I intend publishing soon a short account of the most important events of my political life. It will be, I hope, the best answer to all calumnies, for those who are not sufficiently acquainted with me.

Receive, dear Sir, the expression of my warmest sympathy.

Yours truly,

Michael Bakunin.

10, Paddington-green, W., March 12, 1862.

[We have just heard that the two brothers of Bakunin have been arrested, and are now confined in a fortress,—probably the Free Press will say, “to increase the staff of Russian agents.”—Ed.]

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  • “Michael Bakunin,” The Working Man 2 no. 22 (February 1, 1862): 29-31.
  • “Michael Bakunin,” The Working Man 2 no. 23 (March 1, 1862) 65-67.
  • “Bakunin in London,” The Working Man 2 no. 24 (April 1, 1862) 109.


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