On Bakunin’s Catechism(1851)

Original Text (1971 English Translation)

Before my intentions have the chance to be skewed I want to explicitly state that I strongly disagree with all anti antisemitic claim made by Mikhail Alexandrovich Bakunin.

Despite this flaw of character I find most of his other sociological outlooks to be in many ways quite innovative, under examined and potentially even prophetic(if one believes in that sort of thing).

For those who are unaware of who he is, (I suspect many would be as not many people I have met have the desire nor time to study anarchist philosophy.) Bakunin was a Russian political-philosopher became well known for a school of ideological thought known as syndicalism.

This is often thought to be a sub-type of anarchism, and while Bakunin certainly did carry many anarchist ideals along with a very-anti-authoritarian outlook, I question whether or not I would consider the fundamental ideas behind the initial backbone of this theory established throughout his 1851 work: Catechism to be inherently anarchistic.

Regardless the translator cites this accreditation in the preface by H. E, Kaminski which refers to this work as “The spiritual foundation of the entire anarchist movement….”

Herein are many of the defining principals and conditions which it posited, along with an attempt to analyze, simplify, and draw associative connections throughout to the best of my ability.

“III. Freedom is the absolute right of every adult man and woman to seek no other sanction for their acts than their own conscience and their own reason, being responsible first to themselves and then to the society which they have voluntarily accepted.”(Bakunin 1851)

Here we can see the anti-authoritarian fail-safe that will become a backbone to protect the anarchist ideal from the less libertarian parts of this theory. This means that all individuals ought to possess the right to voluntarily choose what society or ‘syndicate‘ one would like to live in. This also guarantees the anarchist-friendly principal which allows any to act as an autonomous entity if one so desires.

Furthermore, it advocates that while their responsibility to their society ought to be upheld, their duty to satisfy their own basic necessities for themselves ought to supersede, which to me sounds like an idealistic portrayal of certain aspects found in modern capitalism.

“V. The freedom of each is therefore realizable only in the equality of all. The realization of freedom through equality, in principle and in fact, is justice.”(Bakunin 1851) 

Contrary to his anti-Semitic claims he appears to display a very Egalitarian sociological outlook. This is demonstrated by the claim that the freedom of all is a necessary requirement for the freedom of any. It does this by positing equality to be responsible and inherently required for the existence of genuine freedom.

“VII. Absolute rejection of every authority including that which sacrifices freedom for the convenience of the state.” (Bakunin 1851)

Here we can see anarchist fundamentals beginning to take shape. This makes a broad call which underlies a key ideal common among most if not all anarchist thinkers being the abolition of all authoritarian power structures.

This Particularly addresses administrative functions of society which infringe on the Liberty of it’s people in order to maintain order and protect the interests of leadership. It’s easy to see imagine that Bakunin probably would’ve despised the United states Patriot Act!

“Liberty must result from the greatest possible realization of individual liberty, as well as of liberty on all levels of social organization.”(Bakunin 1851) 

Unlike many modern conceptions of Anarchism, Bakunin’s theory did not inherently call for the abolition of organized society, merely the parasitic authoritarian power structures. He believed that in the absence of all authoritarian leadership, humans would still be capable of fully organizing themselves around the necessities of liberty and the preservation of collective interests such as production, maintenance of equality through justice; and functions which serve the general good of society such as education and health services.

At first this comes off as a bit Utopian, but think about it. If the cells in our body could evolve over time into a working homeostasis as complex as the human body, who’s to say that humans could not also be capable of doing the same on a macro-cosmic scale. As if the principals of biological evolution were carrying over into sociological evolution.

To some this may start to be sounding a bit like Marxism, and while many key ideas of Karl Marx are compatible with the ideas of Bakunin he seems to condense the Marxist societal model into only a portion of his own, allowing it to mutually coexist with multiple other flavors of voluntary cooperation.

Bakunin believed that society ought to be formed “according to the principles of free association and federation.” This can be a little difficult to fathom at first, but once you catch on, an entire new world of possibility for the socioeconomic future of mankind becomes available for contemplation.

“\The life of each nation is subordinated to a plethora of different historical, geographical, and economic conditions, making it impossible to establish a model of organization equally valid for all. Any such attempt would be absolutely impractical. It would smother the richness and spontaneity of life which flourishes only in infinite diversity and, what is more, contradict the most fundamental principles of freedom.”(Bakunin 1851)

Above is what I believe to be one of the most compelling arguments for the development of such a system. This vastly multi-paradigmatic societal system could potentially be compared to the different organ structures which make up an organism, as well as the different components which compose a working machine, depending on how one would prefer to look at it.

With this principal in place, societies could theoretically coexist in such a way that a barter capitalist society, a 60s counter-culture styled hippy commune, a direct-democracy, and a socialist-republic could all co exist peacefully as co-operating participants of a larger collective unit, and everyone would get a voluntary choice over which type of society they would like to live under if any, or start there own should they please. This allows for lack of better words the existence of a modular form of society.

In some ways this could almost be seen as similar to modern day United States… If we were to eliminate the need for federal and state governments as we know them today, instead delegating all leadership to court systems and what appears to be the purest form of popular sovereignty I have yet to come across.

Bakunin goes into further detail into explaining the intricacies of his ideas throughout the rest of the essay as well as his many subsequent works. These are however outside the scope of this article’s goal of painting a broad conceptual analysis and explanation of his often overlooked and poorly understood syndicalist-anarchist school of thought.

I hope we all were able  to get something out of this. Even more so, I hope you are inspired to read further into the works of Bakunin and the world of Anarchist Philosophy and political theory in general.

Since I began reading his works the revolutionary ideas within have never ceased to stir up, intrigue, and inspire the intellectual capacities of my mind. You can likely expect more on him as I progress through his work and occupy myself with the contemplation, association, and analysis of his thoughts and ideas.

Until than I wish you all a wonderful day/evening/!

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Half-Argument for relevance of abstract thinkers.

Why have academic intellectuals of our day deemed abstract thinkers worthy of a lesser merit? Is it because we’re more fun at parties? Or merely the jealousy over the modern academics inability to create anything profoundly original? Or most likely of the three: that I myself have grown bitter over my current favorite writers (Dostoevsky and Bakunin) being labeled as too abstract for relevance.

In spite of criticism I find them to be more relevant in a manner so practically profound yet dualistically simple that what is to be gained from reading such a variety is often overlooked. Let’s look at Dostoevsky for example, any one of his works that I have thus far picked up, has contained so much information that I could read the same passages for weeks on end and get new and unique lessons (not unlike reading a religious work) picking up informational tidbits about everything from the art of literature, psychology, metaphysics, epistemology, politics, Russian history sociology, and above all ethics.

Likewise with Bakunin, I first took to him for his rants about anarchism and radical political philosophy, but found myself being schooled on almost everything else under the sun in the process, as a result I see it more due to call these abstract thinkers vastly paradigmatic rather than irrelevant to their respective fields, and that again their is much more to learn from these types of thinkers than first meets the eye.