Paul Eltzbacher, “A Synopsis of Bakunin’s Teaching” (1900)

A Synopsis of Bakunin’s Teaching[1]
To escape its wretched lot the populace has three ways, two imaginary and one real. The two first are the rum-shop and the church, the third is the social revolution. A cure is possible only through the social revolution — that is, through the destruction of all institutions of inequality, and the establishment of economic and social equality. The revolution wall not be made by anybody. Revolutions are never made, neither by individuals nor yet by secret societies. They come about automatically, in a measure; the power of things, -the current of events and facts, produces them. They are long preparing m the depth of the obscure consciousness of the masses — then they break out suddenly, not seldom on apparently slight occasion. The revolution is already at hand to-day; everybody feels its approach.
By the revolution we understand the unchaining of everything that is to-day called “evil passions,” and the destruction of everything that in the same language is called “public order.”
The revolution wall rage not against men, but against relations and things. Bloody revolutions are often necessary, thanks to human stupidity; yet they are always an evil, a monstrous evil, and a great disaster, not only with regard to the victims, but also for the sake of the purity and perfection of the purpose in whose name they take place. One must not wonder if in the first moment of their uprising the people kill many oppressors and exploiters — this misfortune, which is of no more importance anyhow than the damage done by a thunderstorm, can perhaps not be avoided. But this natural fact will be neither moral nor even useful. Political massacres have never killed parties; particularly have they always shown themselves impotent against the privileged classes; for authority is vested far less in men than in the position which the privileged acquire by any institutions, particularly by the State and private property. If one would make, a thorough revolution, therefore, one must attack things and relationship, destroy, property and the State: then there is no need of destroying men and exposing one’s self to the inevitable reaction which the slaughtering of men always has provoked and always will provoke in every society. But, in order to. have the right to deal humanely with men without danger to the revolution, one must be inexorable toward things and relationship, destroy everything, and first and foremost property and its inevitable consequence the State. This is the whole secret of the revolution.
The revolution, as the power of things to-day necessarily presents it before us, will not be national, but international, — that is, universal. In view of the threatened league of all privileged interests and all reactionary powers, in view of the terrible instrumentalities that a shrewd organization puts at their disposal, in view of the deep chasm that to-day yawns between the bourgeoisie and the laborers everywhere, no revolution can count on success if it does not speedily extend itself beyond the individual nation to all other nations.
The revolution, as we understand it, must on its very first day completely and fundamentally destroy the State and all State institutions. This destruction will have the following natural and necessary effects, (a) The bankruptcy of the State, (b) The cessation of State collection of private debts, whose payment is thenceforth left to the debtor’s pleasure, (c) The cessation of the payment of taxes, and of the levying of direct or indirect imposts, (d) The dissolution of the army, the courts, the corps of office-holders, the police, and the clergy, (e) The stoppage of the official administration of justice, the abolition of all that is called juristic law and of its exercise. Hence, the valuelessness, and the consignment to an “auto-da-fe” of all titles to property, testamentary dispositions, bills of sale, deeds of gift, judgments of courts— in short, of the whole mass of papers relating to private law. Every where, and in regard to everything, the revolutionary fact in place of the law created and guaranteed by the State, (f) The confiscation of all productive capital and instruments of labor in favor of the associations of laborers, which will use them for collective production, (g) The confiscation of all Church and State property, as well as of the bullion in private hands, for the benefit of the commune formed by the league of the associations of laborers. In return for the confiscated goods, those who are affected by the confiscation receive from the commune their absolute necessities; they are free to acquire more afterward by their labor.
The destruction will be followed by the reshaping. Hence, (h) The organization of the commune by the permanent association of the barricades and by its organ, the council of the revolutionary commune, to which every barricade, every street, every quarter, sends one or two responsible and revocable representatives with binding instructions. The council of the commune can appoint executive committees oat of its membership for the various branches of the revolutionary administration, (i) The declaration of the capital, insurgent and organized as a commune, that, after the righteous destruction of the State of authority and guardianship, it renounces the right (or rather the usurpation) of governing the provinces and setting a standard for them, (k) The summons to all provinces, communities, and associations, to follow the example given by the capital, first to organize themselves in revolutionary form, then to send to a specified meeting-place responsible and revocable representatives with binding instructions, and so to constitute the league of the insurgent associations, communities, and provinces, and to organize a revolutionary power capable of defeating the reaction. The sending, not of official commissioners of the revolution with some sort of badges, but of agitators for the revolution, to all the provinces and communities — especially to the peasants, who cannot be revolutionized by scientific principles nor yet the edicts of any dictatorship, but only by the revolutionary fact itself: that is, by the inevitable effects of the complete cessation of official State activity in all the communities. The abolition of the national State, not only in other senses, but in this, — that all foreign countries, provinces, communities, associations, nay, all individuals who have risen in the name of the same principles, without regard to the present State boundaries, are accepted as part of the new political system and nationality; and that, on the other hand, it shall exclude from membership those provinces, communities, associations, or personages, of the same country, who take the side of the reaction. Thus must the universal revolution, by the very fact of its binding the insurgent countries together for joint defence, march on unchecked over the abolished boundaries and the ruins of the formerly existing States to its triumph.
To serve, to organize, and to hasten the revolution, which must be everywhere the work of the people — this alone is the task of those who foresee the course of evolution. We have to perform “midwife’s services” for the new time, to help on the birth of the revolution.
To this end we must, first, spread among the masses thoughts that correspond to the instincts of the masses. What keeps the salvation-bringing thought from going through the laboring masses with a rush? Their ignorance; and particularly the political and religious prejudices which, thanks to the exertions of the ruling classes, to this day obscure the laborer’s natural thought and healthy feelings.
Hence the aim must consist in making him completely conscious of what he wants, evoking in him the thought that corresponds to his impulses. If once the thoughts of the laboring masses have mounted to the level of their impulses, then they will be soon determined and their power irresistible.
Furthermore, we must form, not indeed the army of the revolution, — the army can never be anything but the people, — but yet a sort of staff for the revolutionary army. These must be devoted, energetic, talented men, who, above all, love the people without ambition and vanity, and who have the faculty of mediating between the revolutionary thought and the instincts of the people. No very great number of such men is requisite. A hundred revolutionists firmly and seriously bound together are enough for international organization. Two or three hundred revolutionists are enough for the organization of the largest country.
Here, especially, is the field for the activity of secret societies. In order to serve, organize and hasten the general revolution Bakunin founded the “Alliance Internationale de la democratic socialiste.” It was to pursue a double purpose: (a) The spreading of correct views about politics, economics, and philosophical questions of every kind, among the masses in all countries; an active propaganda by newspapers, pamphlets, and books, as well as by the founding of public associations. (b) The winning of all wise, energetic, silent, well-disposed men who are sincerely devoted to the idea; the covering of Europe, and America too as far as possible, with a network of self-sacrificing revolutionists, strong by unity.

[1] From Eltzbacher’s “Anarchism.”
About Shawn P. Wilbur 2702 Articles
Independent scholar, translator and archivist.