Bakunin, Marx, and Johann Philipp Becker
It would have been difficult to imagine at first that one day Mikhail Bakunin (1814–1876) and Karl Marx (1818–1883) would face one another as the heads of opposing tendencies of international socialism. They were nearly the same age and both emigrants who had settled in Paris between 1843 and 1844, and were part of the same group of international radicals that had congregated in Paris – a melting pot for European emigrants before 1848 – at the time. There they were introduced to one another in March 1844 and had a friendly relationship until Marx was expelled from France in January 1845. Despite some tribulations – for example, Marx’s Neue Rheinische Zeitung accused Bakunin of being a Russian spy in 1848 – they continued to correspond well into the 1860s.1 On 3 November 1864, a last personal meeting was arranged by Marx,2 to which Bakunin was glad to agree for a special reason: ‘I knew that he had played a major part in the foundation of the International.’3
The commonly held notion that Marx was ‘the main founder of the International’4 (the First International or International Working Men’s Association), which Bakunin and many of his contemporaries believed, is a misconception. In reality, Marx had no part in the association of French and English workers that had existed since 1862 and led to the founding meeting of the International in September 1864. Marx was known to English union officials as an immigrant and scholar, and so he was present at the meeting on 28 September 1864 in London’s St. Martin’s Hall, to which he received an invitation at the last minute;5 however, he only took part in the meeting – as he himself put it two weeks later in a letter to Friedrich Engels – ‘in a non-speaking capacity on the platform’.6 During the meeting, Marx was elected as one of two German representatives of the 32-person provisional Central Council (later General Council) of the International and wrote the ‘Provisional Rules’7 and the ‘Inaugural Address’,8 the International’s founding declaration – which Bakunin later described as ‘a remarkable, serious and profound manifesto, like all those that he writes, when they are not personal polemics’.9
Marx sent Bakunin the ‘Inaugural Address’, published a short time after their meeting in London, to Italy (where Bakunin had moved).10 More than once, in the following years, Marx toyed with the idea of mobilising Bakunin’s support in disputes within the International in Italy. In April 1865 Marx threatened to ‘get Bakunin to lay some counter-mines for Mr Mazzini in Florence’,11 and on 1 May of the same year he declared that if the Italian immigrants in London ‘don’t appoint new delegates soon, as we have asked them to, Bakunin will have to arrange for some life [sic] Italians’.12 Finally, in September 1867 Marx praised the Italian paper Libertà e Giustizia and explained ‘I assume that Bakunin is involved’.13
The Alliance ‘request’ by Johann Philipp Becker (November 1868)
Bakunin became a member of the Geneva central section of the International in June or July 1868.14 However, he at first concentrated his activities on the League of Peace and Liberty (Ligue de la Paix et de la Liberté), whose founding congress he had attended a year earlier.15 At their second congress, from 22 to 26 September 1868 in Berne, Bakunin became completely disillusioned with the political character of the League. He introduced his collectivist ideas during the second item of the agenda at that congress: ‘How does the economic or social question relate to the question of peace through freedom?’16 They were met with harsh criticism from several speakers. The draft of his resolution on this issue17 was rejected by the majority of the delegate nations with seven votes against (Spain, Sweden, Mexico, France, Germany, Switzerland, England) and four in favour (Poland, Russia, Italy, USA).18 On 25 September, Bakunin and 17 other congress participants quit the League after reading a letter of protest.19
The International’s congress, which had taken place a few days earlier in Brussels, declared to the League on 12 September 1868 that their existence next to the International was unjustified and suggested that the League’s members should ‘join one section or another of the International’.20 This is precisely what Bakunin and his friends planned on doing after leaving the League. According to his own account, Bakunin ‘suggested that the social-revolutionary minority, who had left the League, all join the International while at the same time retaining their close relations’.21 Bakunin was referring to his contacts with various European socialists and the resulting conspiratorial web of relationships, which he had tried to form into an organisational framework between 1864 and 1867.22 According to Bakunin, his suggestion to join the International was unanimously agreed upon by all those present. There were, however, different opinions related to the question of forming a separate organisation, which the French and Italian participants of the meeting felt should include a secret and an official branch and remain absolutely independent of the International. There was a consensus that they should continue to work together in secret. However, Bakunin was against forming an official organisation because it ‘would compete in a most undesirable way’ with the International. Despite Bakunin’s opposition, an official organisation called the International Alliance of Socialist Democracy (Alliance internationale de la Démocratie Socialiste) was formed and a programme and regulations were developed by the meeting’s participants based on a lengthy draft by Bakunin.23
Even though the Alliance claimed to be ‘established entirely within the big International Working Men’s Association’ in their preambles,24 they still had to apply to the London General Council of the International for official recognition. The German socialist Johann Philipp Becker,25 who was part of the Central Office (bureau central) of the Alliance, was given this task. Bakunin wrote:
Citizen J. Phillippe Becker, a member of this office, a personal friend of the members of the General Council, and to some extent influential among them, was unanimously entrusted by all the other members of the Office (Brosset, Bakunin, Perron, Guétat, Duval and secretary Zagorski) to write to London. He accepted this mission, certain, he said, of the success of his approach, and added that the General Council, which had no right to refuse us, would necessarily understand, after the explanations which he gave them, the immense utility of the Alliance. We thus relied completely on the promise and assurance of Ph. Becker […]. The fact is that – contrary to all his promises – he had written nothing to London, or that he had written something completely different from what he had told us.26
Becker had in fact written a letter to London; however, it was not exactly a request for the Alliance’s admittance to the International. In his letter to the General Council on 29 November 1868, he wrote, more or less matter-of-factly:
In addition, we have been instructed to inform you that an International Alliance of Socialist Democracy has formed within our Association, whose programme is enclosed. Its local section has 145 members to date, and will soon have many hundreds more. As the existing sections and affiliated groups of our Association have almost exclusively been treating symptoms – their consumer establishments, bakery, butcher and chandlery, and the protection of employees’ wage – and have let our primary mission out of their sights, the time has come for an element to arise and rally together to bring some healthy idealism and revolutionary energy into the movement on the continent before it is too late. It had already begun to get boring for energetic natures. And history cannot do without an avant-guard. A few words of encouragement and support in your response to this Alliance would have a positive effect.27
Becker’s rather smug letter surprisingly resulted in Marx’s first verbal attack against Bakunin. On the evening that Becker’s letter was received by the London General Council of the International, Marx wrote to Engels:
Mr Bakunin – in the background of this business – is condescending enough to wish to take the workers’ movement under Russian leadership. This shit has been in existence for 2 months. Only this evening did old Becker inform the General Council about it in writing. […] As old Becker writes, this association should make up for the deficient ‘idealism’ of our Association. L’idéalisme Russe!28
Marx’s frivolous preoccupation with the conspiracy theory that Bakunin had used Becker as a marionette ‘to take the workers’ movement under Russian leadership’ is almost bizarre. In reality Bakunin had no idea what Becker had written to London.29 Ignorant of Becker’s letter and the shock waves it had sent through London, Bakunin himself addressed the leading figure of the General Council, his old associate Marx, on 22 December 1868. In a friendly letter, Bakunin again sent the Alliance’s programme and wrote the following: ‘I also send you the programme of the Alliance that we have founded with Becker and many Italian, Polish and French friends. – We shall have much to say on this subject.’30
After receiving the letter, Marx commented on it to Engels: Bakunin is ‘still under the pleasant misapprehension that he will be allowed to go his own way’.31 On the same day as Bakunin sent his letter to London (22 December 1868), Marx had the General Council send a rebuff to the Alliance which he himself formulated. In addition to a series of references to the Rules and Administrative Regulations of the International, the main reason for the rejection of the Alliance was that ‘the presence of a second international body operating within and outside the International Working Men’s Association would be the infallible means of its disorganisation’.32 And so, Bakunin’s fear at the founding meeting of the Alliance that as an official organisation it would ‘compete in a most unnecessary way’ with the International33 was quickly confirmed.
The Alliance joins the International (February–July 1869)
The Central Office of the Alliance responded to the rebuttal by the General Council on 26 February 1869 with the suggestion that the Alliance dissolve as an international organisation.34 The General Council agreed with this at its meeting on 9 March 186935 and offered to admit the individual sections of the Alliance into the International. The communiqué concerning this matter from the General Council to the Alliance36 also included a critique of a phrase in the Alliance’s programme. The second point of the programme said that the Alliance ‘wants aboveall political, economic and social equalisation of classes and individuals of both sexes’.37 The General Council’s letter from March 1869, written by Marx, states:
The ‘égalisation des classes’ [equalisation of classes], literally interpreted, comes to the ‘Harmony of Capital and Labour’ (‘l’harmonie du capital et du travail’) so persistently preached by the Bourgeoissocialists [sic]. It is not the logically impossible ‘equalisation of classes’, but the historically necessary superseding ‘abolition of classes’ (abolition of classes) [sic], this true secret of the Prolet. movement, which forms the great aim of the Int. W. Ass. Considering, however, the context, in which that phrase ‘égalisation des classes’ occurs, it seems to be a mere slip of the pen, and the General Council feels confident that you will be anxious to remove from your programme an expression which offers such a dangerous misunderstanding.38
Marx also spoke of a ‘slip of the pen’ in a draft of this text that he sent to Engels.39 The phrase in the Alliance’s programme was meant to address both class and individual. Because individuals could not be abolished, the term ‘equalisation’ was chosen.40 Three months before the critic from the General Council, Bakunin had already offered Marx an explanation of this phrase in his letter from 22 December 1868 (where he had also sent the Alliance’s programme):
Nonetheless, I must heartily avow, we would have done better expressing ourselves differently if, for example, we had spoken of the radical abolition of the economic causes of the existence of different classes, the equalisation of the economic, social and political environment, and the conditions needed for all individuals to live and develop without distinction of gender, nation and race.41
In the speeches at the second congress of the League (also sent to Marx), Bakunin took the following position on this question.
I have demanded, I do demand the economic and social equalisation of classes and individuals. Now I want to say what I mean by these words.
I want the abolition of classes both in an economic and social as well as a political sense. […] The history of the [Great French] Revolution itself and the seventy-five years that have passed since then show us that political equality without economic equality is a lie. However much you proclaim the equality of political rights, as long as the economic organisation of society splits it into different social strata, this equality is nothing but a fiction. To make it a reality, the economic causes of class differences must disappear – we must abolish the right to inheritance, which is the permanent source of all social inequalities. […] Thus, gentlemen, but only thus, shall equality and freedom become a political truth.
Here is what we mean when we speak of ‘the equalisation of classes’. Perhaps it would be better to speak of the abolition of classes, the unification of society by the abolition of economic and social inequality. But we have also demanded the equalisation of individuals, and this is the main thing that draws upon us all the wrath of our adversaries’ indignant eloquence.42
It thus seems quite clear, that Bakunin in no way – as Marx feared in the critic he formulated for the General Council in March 1869 – had a ‘harmony of capital and labour’ in mind. In fact, Bakunin himself later referred to this phrase, which was basically of secondary importance, as ‘that unfortunate phrase’43 and also spoke of a ‘slip of the pen’44 – while Marx, who had spoken of a ‘slip of the pen’ (see above), in later years repeatedly made a contentious issue out of it.45
The justified objections by the General Council were enough for the Alliance to change ‘political, economic and social equalisation of classes and individuals’ to ‘final and total abolition of classes and the political, economic and social equalization of individuals’46 at their general meeting on 17 April 1869. The following is found in the minutes: ‘Bakunin read the letter from the General Council (from 20 March 1869) regarding the term ‘equalisation of classes’. It was unanimously agreed to make the modifications called for by the G.C.’47 This ‘modification’ was not considered to be a contentious issue by the meeting’s participants either, but rather a technicality, which was agreed upon without any further discussion.
The General Council had no objections other than the phrase ‘equalisation of classes’; instead, they stressed the pluralism in the International’s programme – with an important limitation:
Since the various sections of workingmen in the same country, and the working classes in different countries, are placed under different circumstances and have attained to different degrees of development, it seems almost necessary that their theoretical notions, which reflect the real movement, should also diverge.
The community of action, however, called into life by the Intern. W. Ass., the exchange of ideas facilitated by the public organs of the different national sections, and the direct debates at the General Congresses are sure by and by to engender a common theoretical programme.48
This hypothesis by Marx, that the workers’ movement would by and by develop a common theory, was to weigh heavily on the development of the International.
After correcting the ‘slip of the pen’, the Geneva section of the Alliance on 22 June 1869 once again wrote to the General Council to apply for admission to the International.49 The General Council unanimously accepted them at their meeting on 27 July 1869.50
Becker’s position paper on the question of organisation (July 1869)
A second act by the Alliance member Becker – this time in connection with the socialist movement in Germany – was strangely enough also attributed to Bakunin by Marx and Engels.
In the summer of 1869, the German socialists August Bebel and Wilhelm Liebknecht, who belonged to the Union of German Workers’ Associations (Verband Deutscher Arbeitervereine, VDAV), were able to win over an number of prominent members from the competing General Association of German Workers (Allgemeiner Deutscher Arbeiterverein, ADAV), founded by Lassalle in 1863. Together they agreed to form a joint organisation of ‘the social democratic workers of Germany’, which was to be founded in August 1869 in Eisenach. Johann Phillip Becker wrote a position paper on the question of organisation for the Eisenach Congress, which stated that ‘unions are the only true form for workers’ associations and indeed future society’ and further that ‘the proposed party organisation should not have a definitive form, but rather one that is transitional and open to change’. According to Becker’s position paper, the organisation being founded in Eisenach was to be a federation of different union organisations, which were to become ‘a part of the International Working Men’s Association’. In addition, each organisation was to have its own international committee: ‘The unions, the basic elements of the party organisation, are to form special central offices by communication with comrades in their field in different countries about the special interests of their profession’.51
Becker, who was president of the Central Committee of the Group of German-speaking Sections of the International in Geneva, would have played a key role in such an organisation form with different central offices – a plan that was spotted right away. August Bebel, for instance, wrote Marx on 30 July 1869: ‘I also read Becker’s suggestions in the Vorbote and have to admit that they were discomforting to me, because I see in them Becker’s attempt to gain control of the leadership of the International Working Men’s Association in Germany.’52
Becker’s ambitions also got Marx’s attention again – but with the peculiarity that he pinned the blame for Becker’s manoeuvre solely on Bakunin. On 27 July 1869 Marx wrote Engels concerning Becker’s position paper:
Extremely reactionary business, fitting for the pan-Slavists! […] I immediately put a spoke in his wheel when he attempted at the Eisenach Congress to promote himself as centre for Germany. […] Becker himself is not dangerous. But, as we have been informed from Switzerland, his secretary Remy53 was pressed upon him by Mr Bakunin and is Bakunin’s tool. This Russian obviously wishes to become the dictator of the European workers’ movement. He should be careful. Otherwise he will be officially excommunicated.54
For Engels, it was even a matter of fact: ‘It’s quite clear that fat Bakunin is behind it.’55
Once again, it’s quite surprising how quickly Marx and Engels resorted to weighty accusations and threats against Bakunin – to this day, there is no evidence that Bakunin even knew about Becker’s position paper at the Eisenach Congress. Marx was apparently obsessed with the idea that Bakunin wanted to seize power in the International56 – but Becker’s behaviour was to blame for this fixation. Bakunin apparently had nothing to do with either of the matters that caused Marx to react so bitterly toward him: Becker’s Alliance ‘request’ on 29 November 1868 and his position paper for the Eisenach Congress. In fact, they can both be chalked up to Becker, who was being indiscreet and letting his ambitions run wild. When the political differences in the International later became apparent, the atmosphere was already highly charged thanks to Becker.
The International in Geneva and in the Jura Region
The conflicts which were to engulf the entire International in 1871/2 had already been acted out to a lesser degree in Francophone western Switzerland.
From 2 to 4 January 1869, delegates from 30 sections of the International from Francophone Switzerland gathered in Geneva to form the Romance Federation (Fédération Romande) of the International. Bakunin, who had been active in the Geneva sections of the International since the summer of 1868, had drafted rules for the Federation, which were accepted by the congress with some modifications.1 The rules included: Art. 1) The Romance Federation is made up of sections of the International in Francophone Switzerland. Art. 2) However, these are not forced to join. Art. 4) Each section of the Romance Federation is given full autonomy when it comes to its internal affairs and rules, as long as the Federal Committee2 of the Romance Federation judges that the latter do not break the Federation’s rules.3
The congress also decided to establish the Romance Federation’s official organ, the Égalité. An editorial committee was elected which included Bakunin, Johann Philipp Becker, and Charles Perron, an enameller from Geneva and member of the Alliance.4 Bakunin published many articles that year in the Égalité,5 especially during the summer months of 1869 when he filled in for the chief editor, Perron.6
The Geneva section of the Alliance was unanimously accepted into the International by the London General Council on 27 July 1869, almost seven months after the founding congress of the Romance Federation.7 They then applied for membership in the International’s Romance Federation with the following letter to the Federal Committee:
We have the honour of presenting You with our statutes, and we are certain that once You have examined them, You shall recognise that, as all are in conformity with the General Rules as well as with those of Romance Switzerland, they demonstrate the sincere will of our section to cooperate fully in the great goal of the International, the final and total emancipation of the working class. In the name of the section of the Alliance of Socialist Democracy
- President – M. Bakunin
- Secretary Heng8
This application for admittance was presented to the Federal Committee of the Romance Federation only on 22 September 1869 by Fritz Heng, who was both the secretary of the Alliance and a member of the Federal Committee. In a manuscript, Bakunin described the Federal Committee’s meeting regarding the Alliance’s application for admittance (as Heng had related it to him):
The Federal Council then consisted of seven members: Guétat (president), H. Perret (general secretary), his brother (interior secretary), Martin, Chénaz, Duval and Heng. When this last person presented the request, an expression of considerable uncertainty, not to say confusion, was to be seen on every face. All began by saying that they themselves were members of the Alliance, except Martin. None denied the legitimacy of the Alliance as a section of the International, which moreover would have been impossible in the presence of two original letters, presented by Fritz Heng, written on behalf of the General Council by Eccarius9 and Jung,10 and in light of the equally decisive and universally acknowledged fact that the section of the Alliance had sent a delegate to Basel, who had been admitted as such by the congress.11 The duty of the Federal Council to receive the section of the Alliance into the Romance Federation was thus obvious, staring everyone in the face, as our heretofore friend Philipp Becker had said.12 […] It was Mr H. Perret, the great diplomat of the Geneva International,13 who spoke first. He began by recognising that the Alliance was a legitimate section, and recognised as such by both the General Council and the Basel Congress, that it was moreover a most inspired section, very useful […], finally, that the request was perfectly in order, but that the Federal Council, he felt, would have to receive it at a later time, when the passions aroused by the struggles that had taken place had calmed down … etc., etc. – As for Mr Guétat, he declared roundly that he would have accepted the Alliance on its own recognisance if this section did not contain some who displeased him … Martin spoke out openly against it. Chénaz slept. It was decided to postpone acceptance until an indeterminate date.14
The Alliance was informed of this resolution in a letter dated 8 October 1869, which cited as grounds for the postponement, among other things:
that your society [the Geneva section of the Alliance] is not of a purely working-class character, that your statutes are moreover those of a political association, whilst agreeing to go along with the principles of the International. […] the Federal Committee cannot admit you without offending a large number of sections, leading to a schism that we wish to avoid in the interests of the Federation. Consequently, the Committee […] has voted by a majority of 5 to 2 for the indefinite deferral of your entry into the Romance Federation.15
This deferral, which amounted to a refusal,16 was in no way covered by the rules of the Romance Federation: as the Geneva Alliance was officially accepted as a section of the International by the General Council, the Federal Committee could only have denied their application on the grounds of a contradiction between the rules of the section and those of the Federation.17
The problem of admitting the Alliance into the Romance Federation, which should have been a mere formality, had to do with political differences – which were even of a professional nature. On the one hand, the Geneva International’s membership was made up of construction workers (bâtiment) who were mostly foreigners or Swiss who had immigrated to Geneva from other cantons. They didn’t have municipal voting rights, weren’t involved in the battles between the Geneva’s political parties, and their social situation was pretty precarious when it came to living conditions and employment. A successful strike by Geneva’s construction workers in early 1868 and 1869, which was supported by the International, led many construction workers to join the International where they made up the lion’s share of the 2,000 to 3,000 members (1869–1870).18
On the other hand, there were the workers of the so-called fabrique – which included goldsmiths and makers of luxury watches and music boxes.19 The workers of the fabrique could more than make up for the fact that they were outnumbered – they only had 500 members in the International (1869),20 – through their high degree of organisation and their privileged social status. Close-knit, highly qualified, and well paid, they were viewed as a labour aristocracy who set the agenda in the executive committees of the Geneva International. As citizens of Geneva, they were also integrated in the politics of their home town and even ran in the election for the Grand Council on 15 November 1868, partly on their own list and partly together with the bourgeois parti radical. On 14 November 1869, the parti radical put the well-known spokesman of the International, Jacques Grosselin, on their list for the State Council elections of the Canton of Geneva; however, the conservatives publicly accused them of collaborating with the ‘subversives’ of the International, the alleged destroyers of property, family, and public order.21 Thus it was very inopportune for the moderate members of the International in Geneva belonging to the fabrique that at this exact time topics like collectivising private property were being extensively debated and propagated by the Alliance and in the Égalité, whose editors included the Alliance members Perron and Bakunin.22 Bakunin wrote:
All this has necessarily brought upon us the hatred of the leaders of the fabrique. On the other hand, the openly socialist and revolutionary principles forthrightly expounded by the Égalité could not serve their interests in the least, being diametrically opposed to their goal: the abolition of states, of patriotic and political borders; the abolition of the right of inheritance, the collective organisation of property and labour from the bottom up, through liberty – all this could not serve as a bridge to unite in a single party the radical bourgeois with the bourgeois Internationals of Geneva. – The entire radical party of that city (the Fazys, the Carterets, the Cambessédès) having been thus stirred up against us, and given the direct influence they have since exercised over the leaders of the fabrique in the International (the Grosselins, the Weyermanns, the Perrets, and so many others), they have continued to foment, accumulate and organise their hatred and persecution against us –23
Indeed, the engraver François Weyermann – who belonged to the fabrique and ran for election in November 1868 for the parti radical – gave the following reasons for his resentment toward the Alliance: ‘The Alliance preaches atheism and the abolition of the family, and we don’t want that’. Another Genevan concurred, saying ‘The members of the Alliance are men who do not believe in God or morality.’24
The lines were so hardened in Geneva that the essentially formal question of admitting the Alliance section into the Romance Federation turned into an ideological conflict over the political direction of the International.
The International in Jura [February-May 1969]
The members of the Alliance were not alone in their convictions. During the founding congress of the Romance Federation in early January 1869, Bakunin got to know the delegates from the sections of the Swiss Jura (Bernese Jura and the Canton of Neuchâtel) – Fritz Heng, Adhémar Schwitzguébel, and James Guillaume – who were to become his closest political allies in coming years. Guillaume lived with Bakunin during the congress. Guillaume later remembered:
Since, having been delegated by the section of Locle, I arrived in Geneva Saturday 2 January 1869, after spending Christmas and New Year’s in Morges with my fiancée’s family, Bakunin, who had a room available, and who had offered to host a delegate, cast his eye on me, and absolutely wished that I should stay with him, I accepted his hospitality with pleasure, happy to have a chance to meet such a famous man, whose warm welcome had won me over instantly. I only stayed two days in Geneva, and already had to leave the following Sunday, 3 January; however, this short length of time was enough to bind us, Bakunin and I, despite our difference in age, in a friendship that would quickly develop into a thoroughgoing intimacy. […]
Naturally, Bakunin and I spoke of the Alliance of Social Democracy; he showed me the programme, the federalist and anti-authoritarian character of which conformed to my own ideas. […] I was able to tell Bakunin, without a second thought, that I felt myself to be in agreement on all the essential points.25
Guillaume (1844–1916) was 24 years old at the time.26 After dropping out of university (1862–1864), he had worked as a teacher for French, literature and history at the industrial school (école industrielle) of Le Locle in the Canton of Neuchâtel. There he had been put under such pressure by the school board because of his political activities that he quit teaching to work in his father’s printing shop. At the industrial school, he organised evening classes for the apprentices and so came into contact with the labour movement, which had taken a special form in the context of the dominant industry in Jura – the export-oriented watchmaker industry. As opposed to the rigid, almost guild-like organisation of the makers of luxury clocks in Geneva’s fabrique, the watchmakers in Jura were by and large free of state or industry regulations. Because they did not produce luxury goods for a small elite (like their Genevese colleagues) but standardised products for the mass market in Europe and America, they were much more vulnerable to the quick succession of international business cycles of the day. The local politicians couldn’t change this situation27 and enjoyed little respect in Jura. To improve their lot, the workers had to become active themselves: unlike those in Geneva, the watchmakers in Jura met the companies’ attempts to pass on the risk of lower sales to them with unionised resistance, boycotts, industrial action and the establishment of strike funds.28
And so the founding of the first section of the International in Le Locle, on the initiative of Guillaume and his friend Constant Meuron (already at the time a 62-year-old ex-Carbonaro) in August 1866, was met with lively interest from the watchmakers. Guillaume was named their delegate to the International’s Congresses in Geneva (1866), Lausanne (1867) and the subsequent founding congress of the League of Peace and Liberty in Geneva. The section in Le Locle created credit and consumer cooperatives and, like other sections in Jura, intently followed the theoretical discussions at the general congresses of the International. An important stage in the development of their political ideas was the debate over the sensational resolution of the Brussels Congress of the International (6–13 September 1868) on common property.29 Guillaume later remembered:
After the Brussels Congress, the Swiss Francophone sections began to study and debate the question of property, and I distinctly recall how, at that time, we hesitated before this problem, so new to our minds. Under the influence of Ch. Perron, Serno-Solov’evich and Johann Philipp Becker in Geneva, under that of Adhémar Schwitzguébel in the Val de St. Imier, and under that of Constant Meuron and some others in Locle, most of the socialists quickly declared themselves in favour of common property.30
When the International once again voted on common property in the following year at the Basel Congress,31Bakunin32 and the Jura delegates Fritz Robert, Heng, Schwitzguébel and Guillaume voted in favour while Geneva’s delegates Perret (the fabrique’s own delegate) and Grosselin (despite an imperative mandate to vote for common property) abstained.33
The Jura socialists associated with Guillaume, Schwitzguébel, Heng et al. and the spokesmen of the Geneva International also drew differing conclusions from their experience with local politics. Like the Geneva sections, the section in Le Locle had also tried to gain influence in the politics of the canton by taking part in elections. Their experiences, however, led to an acceleration of the development of their political ideas: in the vote on the revision of the canton’s constitution (15 March 1868), when a member of the International stood for the Grand Council elections of the Canton Neuchâtel on the list of the parti radical (3 May 1868) and finally in connection with the municipal elections (13 December 1868) – the Le Locle Internationalists were the victims of manipulative political tactics, which robbed them of any illusions they had about participating in civic politics.34 At the electoral meeting for the municipal elections on 13 December 1868, Guillaume gave a speech where he drew the following conclusion from the experience: ‘we shall declare that we believe in progress, that we feel ourselves to be free men, capable of governing ourselves’.35 As Bakunin only got to know Guillaume in January 1869 (see above), he could not have influenced these words which appeared on 18 December 1868 in the first issue of the Progrès – founded by Guillaume and his political friends. And yet it is precisely the Progrès which Marx would later claim Bakunin had established as a ‘private journal of his own’36 which was ‘edited by his valet James Guillaume, a Swiss schoolmaster’.37
On 20 February 1869, Bakunin made his first visit to Le Locle in the Jura Mountains and found a sophisticated movement, which was drawn to and propagated revolutionary socialism because of its own experiences. Guillaume summed up the self-assertive mood in Jura as follows: Bakunin ‘was an invaluable assistant in this propaganda’.38 As such, Bakunin was not an organiser or leader of the movement; at most, he spread certain ideas in Jura. He did this with the charm of a likeable revolutionary, whose uncomplicated nature has often been described to have won over everyone he came into contact with. Guillaume later recollected:
If Bakunin’s imposing stature struck the imagination, his warmth captured our hearts; he won over everyone immediately, and Constant Meuron remarked, ‘That’s my man’. We spoke of a thousand different things. Bakunin gave us news of the propaganda excursion his Italian friend Fanelli was undertaking in Spain, where he founded the first section of the International in Madrid with the programme of the Alliance, and he showed us a photograph of Fanelli surrounded by a group of Spanish socialists. […] at eight o’clock, in the great hall of the International Circle, before an audience that included almost as many women as men, Bakunin gave a lecture on the Philosophy of the People, following a second speech on the subject of the history of the bourgeoisie, its development, its rise and its fall. We were spellbound, and the precision of his language, which came directly to the point, unceremoniously and with an audacious frankness, frightened no one, at least among the workers (for there were only workers in the audience, and curiosity had also drawn some adversaries); on the contrary, we were grateful to him for pursuing his thoughts to their end. It was the first time that most of the members of the International had heard such ideas expressed.
They left a deep impression.39
The extremely friendly reception also made a deep impression on Bakunin. Bakunin left Le Locle on 22 February, stayed overnight in Neuchâtel and wrote the first in a series of articles for the Progrès there the next day, which began as follows:
Before leaving your mountains I feel the need to express to you once more, in writing, my profound gratitude for the fraternal reception that you have given me. Is it not marvelous that a former Russian noble, of whom you previously knew nothing, may set foot in your land for the first time and, having scarcely arrived, find himself surrounded by hundreds of brothers!40
The close bond was also the result of a political consensus. As opposed to the spokesmen of the Geneva International who mostly belonged to the fabrique and were integrated in the politics of their home town, the members of the International in Le Locle had already turned away from politics due to their experiences. They understood Bakunin’s argument perfectly that participating in politics would result in the labour movement being tied to the state and thus make carrying out their social-revolutionary demands impossible. Bakunin was invoking a traditional social-revolutionary idea here which postulates that participating in existing power structures will not lead to freedom. Freedom can only be obtained by refusing to participate in the existing power structures, destroying those power structures and creating new forms of community.41 This emancipatory project was what Bakunin meant when he used the term ‘abstention’ (in the sense of non-participation), which he wanted people to see as an act of self-determination and in no way passivity. Bakunin refused the politician’s concept of politics as tied to the state:
And there is the essential point upon which we separate ourselves in an absolute manner from the radical bourgeois socialists and politicians. Their politics consists in the utilisation, reform and transformation of politics and the state, while our politics, the only politics we recognise, is that of the total abolition of the state and the politics that is its necessary manifestation.42
Marx and Engels misinterpreted this as a call for ‘total abstinence from all politics’ or a demand ‘that the workers should abstain from political activity’.43 Bakunin replied:
The Marxians accuse us of intentionally ignoring political struggles, thus representing us falsely as a species of Arcadian, Platonic, pacifistic socialists who are in no way revolutionary. In saying this of us, they lie deliberately, for they know better than anyone that we too urge the proletariat to engage with the political question, but that the politics that we preach, absolutely populist and internationalist, not nationalist and bourgeois, has as its goal not the foundation or transformation of states but their destruction. We say, and all that we witness today in Germany and Switzerland confirms this, that their politics aimed at the transformation of states in the so-called populist sense can only end up in a new subjugation of the proletariat to the profit of the bourgeois.44
Because of their experience, the movement in Jura also referred to the term ‘abstention’. At a public meeting on 30 May 1869 in Crêt-du-Locle (between Le Locle and La Chaux-des-Fonds) – where for the first time sections from the Bernese Jura also took part – Bakunin (who was in Jura for the second time on this occasion), Heng, Schwitzguébel, and Robert spoke one after another. In the minutes of the meeting, printed in the Progrès, can be found a typical statement of Guillaume’s concerning the cooperation between the Jura International and Bakunin: ‘Bakunin, from Geneva, studying the matter from another direction, arrives at the same conclusion.’45 Among others, the meeting made the following resolutions: cooperative work was described as the economic system of the future, but it could not resolve the social question at the moment; the next general congress was to discuss a more powerful organisation of the International, in order to take on the state and bourgeoisie more effectively; a debate was to take place in Geneva’s Égalité about common property and the abolition of inheritance rights. And the meeting ‘declares moreover that the International must completely abstain from participating in bourgeois politics’.46
That the sections of the International in Jura were giving voice to a position they developed themselves47 was apparently unthinkable for Marx – and, in part, Marxist historians don’t go beyond stereotypes like the term ‘Bakuninism’ when describing Jura socialism: for instance, ‘Bakuninism as a petit-bourgeois ideology’, an official communist party account of the First International informs us, ‘spread across Switzerland among bankrupt craftsmen and small-business owners in the clock industry in Francophone Switzerland, especially in the mountainous Jura region’.48
The Basel Congress of the International
On 20 July 1869 – a week before the Alliance was admitted into the International – Marx began a first tactical manoeuvre against the Alliance: ‘Cit. Marx’, the Minute Book of the General Council states, ‘opened the discussion on the question [of] the Right to Inheritance. He said the question had been put by the Alliance of Socialist Democrats of Geneva and the Council had accepted it for discussion.’1 Marx only ostensibly referred to the motion ‘of the Genevese’ – put forward more than three months earlier – that ‘the laws of inheritance be added to the questions to be discussed at the next Congress’.2 His real target was once again the phrase in the second point of the Alliance’s programme: in the first version of their programme from September/October 1868, the Alliance called for the equalisation of classes and individuals of both sexes, ‘commencing with abolition of the right of inheritance’.3 The second version of the programme, adopted in April 1869, stated that the Alliance ‘stands for the final and total abolition of classes and the political, economic and social equalization of individuals of either sex, and, to this end, it demands above all the abolition of the right of inheritance’.4
Marx summarised this part of the programme for the General Council as follows: ‘The Democratic Alliance was going to commence the social revolution with the abolition of the right to inheritance.’5 He mixed up the goals named in the Alliance’s programme with the means specified therein. On many occasions Marx gave similarly tendentious summaries of the Alliance’s programme, such as ‘abolition of the right of inheritance as the starting point of the social movement’6 and a year later he gibed that the Alliance’s programme ‘contains such absurdities as the “equality of classes”, “abolition of the right of inheritance as the first step of the social revolution”, etc.’.7 What Marx makes look like a quote from the Alliance’s programme – ‘abolition of the right of inheritance as the first step of the social revolution’ – is nowhere to be found there. In reality the abolition of the right of inheritance was never referred to as a means in the Alliance’s programme,8 but as a vision for the future where equality begins through the abolition of the right of inheritance: ‘I believe’, Bakunin said in a speech at the Berne Congress of the League of Peace and Liberty’, (also sent to Marx in December 1868), ‘that in order to achieve justice and to make possible the social equality of starting conditions for all human individuals, it is necessary to abolish the right to inheritance.’9
‘He asked’, the minutes of Marx’s speech at the General Council meeting on 20 July 1869 continue, ‘would it be policy to do so? The proposition was not new. St. Simon had proposed it in 1830.’10
The French utopian socialist Claude-Henri de Saint-Simon (1760–1825) had died five years earlier than 1830 – what Marx was referring to here was the summary of his ideas titled The Doctrine of Saint-Simon (Doctrine de Saint-Simon) published by his followers Saint-Amand Bazard and Barthélemy Prosper Enfantin in 1830.11 This book propagates a social structure where ownership structures and income distribution depend on an individual’s performance in the manufacturing process. The idea of a new social ranking based on the performance and ability of the individual is described as an alternative to the existing system of property ownership. The existing right of inheritance is dismissed because it is based on legal and not performance criteria. The system of property ownership and especially the right of inheritance (‘privileges of birth’) were to be changed for the sake of the manufacturing process: ‘The privileges of birth, which have already received blows in many respects, will disappear completely. The only right to wealth, that is to the disposal of the instruments of work, will be the ability to put them to work.’12 According to The Doctrine of Saint-Simon, the state should be the only rightful heir who alone can judge the ability and performance of the property owners in the manufacturing process.
It is immediately apparent that Bakunin would never have agreed with the criticism of right of inheritance as justified by the Saint-Simonists. Indeed Bakunin grouped the Saint-Simonists together with authoritarian socialists before 1848, who shared a fervour for regimentation.13 He also complained that their approach, which put performance and productivity (and not emancipation) at the forefront of socialism, would lead to greater exploitation.14
The historian Antje Schrupp pointed out that Bakunin was not evoking the demands of the Saint-Simonist in his criticism of the right of inheritance but those of feminists. In the months before the Alliance was founded, the same demands were being put forward by many, including the Alliance members Virginie Barbet and Marie Richard – they even used a very similar wording as that found in the Alliance’s programme.15 The connection between the right of inheritance and gender relations was apparent at the time.16 And Marx and Engels never missed a chance to make fun of the feminist context of the Alliance’s programme in their polemic against Bakunin: Engels and Lafargue joked that Bakunin had called for the equalisation of classes and individuals ‘in order to outdo the ladies of the League who had hitherto only demanded equalisation of the sexes’.17 Marx was just as disparaging in his notes on a copy of the Alliance’s programme: in the passage ‘It wants above all political, economic and social equalisation of classes and individuals of both sexes, commencing with abolition of the right of inheritance’,18 Marx underlined the words ‘of both sexes’ and wrote ‘Hermaphrodite man! Just like the Russian Commune!’ next to it. Marx also underlined the words ‘abolition of the right of inheritance’ and commented: ‘The old Saint Simon panacea!’19
Later on, Marx continued to repeat the criticism of the right of inheritance in the Alliance’s programme falsely, announcing that ‘the first requirement of the social Revolution was – the abolition of inheritance, old St Simonist rubbish, of which Bakunin, a charlatan and ignoramus, was the responsible publisher’.20 This tirade, typical of Marx, was wrong in more than one way: Bakunin in no way claimed to have originated the demand for the abolition of the right of inheritance, it was much more related to feminist demands and it differed from Saint-Simonist ideas in key points.
For the International’s Basel Congress (6–11 September 1869), Marx’s attack on the criticism of the right of inheritance in the Alliance’s programme grew into a full-blown ‘Report of the General Council on the right of inheritance’. When one of the General Council members wondered why the report was more of an essay than a draft for a resolution for the Basel Congress, Marx answered that it was better ‘to give the reasons & a resolution’.21 Privately, Marx later gave a different reason as to why he became so involved in this matter: the General Council responded so thoroughly to the Alliance’s right of inheritance criticism in order to be able to give Bakunin ‘a thump right on his head’.22
In his report, Marx explained that inheritance laws were not the cause but rather the effect and juridical consequence of the existing economic organisation of society.23 The laws would disappear after a social change supplanted private property in the means of production. The call for the abolition of the right of inheritance tended to lead the working class away from the true point of attack, namely the present society; it was ‘false in theory, and reactionary in practise’.24 Only the following ‘transitory measures’ would be necessary:
- (a) Extension of the inheritance duties already existing in many states, and the application of the funds hence derived to purposes of social emancipation.
- (b) Limitation of the testamentary right of inheritance, which – as distinguished from the intestate or family right of inheritance – appears an arbitrary and superstitious exaggeration even of the principles of private property themselves.25
For his part, Bakunin had proposed a resolution to the commission on the question of the right of inheritance formed by the Geneva sections of the International, which was accepted without any opposition or changes by the general meeting of the Geneva sections (probably on 21 August 1869) and submitted to the Basel Congress of the International in their name.26 His report ended with the following resolution proposal:
Whereas the right of inheritance is one of the principal causes of the economic, social, and political inequality which governs the world; Whereas, so long as there is no equality, there can be neither freedom nor justice but only oppression and exploitation – slavery and poverty for the proletariat, wealth and domination for the exploiters of their labor; Therefore, the Congress recognizes the need to abolish fully and completely the right of inheritance. This abolition will be accomplished as events require, either by reforms or by revolution.27
The ‘Report of the General Council on the right of inheritance’ written by Marx was presented by the General Council’s general secretary Johann Georg Eccarius at the Basel Congress on 10 September 1869 as Marx didn’t attend.28 Bakunin, a member of the commission on the question of inheritance laws initiated by the congress,29 criticised the report in a speech as follows:
The report of the General Council says that since the juridical reality is only the result of economic realities, the transformation of the latter suffices to destroy the former. It is indisputable that everything called a juridical or political right in history has only been the expression or the result of an established fact. But it is also indisputable that the right, being an effect of previously established facts or events, becomes in turn the cause of future events, itself a very real, very powerful fact that must be overthrown if we wish to arrive at an order of things different from what now exists.
Thus, the right of inheritance, once the natural result of the violent appropriation of natural and social riches, became the basis of the political State and the juridical family, which guarantee and sanction individual property.30
As such, Bakunin tied the idea of abolishing the right of inheritance together with the abolition of all forms of political rule. Bakunin had argued similarly in the previous debate on common property31 at the congress:
I vote for collectivity, especially of land and in general of all social wealth, in the sense of social liquidation. By social liquidation I mean expropriation de jure of all current property-owners by the abolition of the political and juridical state, which is the protector and sole guarantor of present property and of all so-called juridical law; and expropriation de facto, by the very force of events and circumstances, wherever and to whatever extent possible.32
Eccarius, former member of the Communist League and Marx’s confidant at the congress, disagreed with Bakunin’s criticism of the state by expressing the hope ‘that the state can be reformed by the accession of the working class to power’.33
Marx’s plan to pick a fight with Bakunin in the right of inheritance discussion in order to give him ‘a thump right on his head’ went astray: the resolutions proposed in the ‘Report of the General Council on the right of inheritance’ were rejected with a vote of 19 to 37, with 6 abstentions and 13 absent delegates.34 With 32 in favour, 23 against, 13 abstentions, and 7 absent delegates, Bakunin’s resolution proposal – which the congress commission on the question of the right of inheritance had adopted – won a majority of votes; however, it missed the absolute majority required to be accepted. After the results – which constituted a respectable result for Bakunin – were announced, Eccarius apparently said ‘Marx will not be happy at all’.35 With regards to the stalemate on the right of inheritance vote and the predominantly German and German-speaking Swiss delegates who had supported him, Marx explained a year later that Bakunin ‘would have defeated us at the last congress in Basle, had it not been for the German element in Switzerland’.36
Bakunin’s manuscript ‘To the Citizen Editors of the Réveil’ (October 1869)
Bakunin also used the Basel Congress to resolve a personal question. One month before the congress, he had found out that the German socialist Wilhelm Liebknecht – who was in exile in London from 1850 to 1862 and was friends with Marx and Engels since that time – had circulated several rumours about him. A witness to one of these allegations had told Bakunin that Liebknecht (possibly at the end of July 1869 in Vienna37) had said that
- Bakunin was a Russian spy.
- The Russian government had helped Bakunin escape from Siberia.
- Because of the founding of the Alliance, Bakunin had maliciously driven a wedge through the International.38
In a manuscript called ‘To the Citizen Editors of the Réveil’ (‘Aux citoyens rédacteurs du Réveil’) written a month after the Basel Congress, Bakunin gave an account of his meeting with Liebknecht:
Arriving in Basel for the congress, I did in fact meet him. What I had to do was indicated to me by the very purpose that I wanted to achieve: that of a final and complete explanation before the working-class public. […] Moreover, the International, new as it is, already has a practice for such cases, the courts of honour. […] I accused my opponent of slandering me and demanded that he produce evidence for his accusation against me. He replied that his words had been misrepresented to me. He had never really accused me and had never claimed to possess any articles of evidence against me; he had none, except perhaps one: namely, my silence after Borkheim published articles defaming me39 in the major organ of Prussian democracy, the Zukunft. In speaking of me to his friends, he had merely given voice to the surprise provoked by this silence. At any rate, he had actually accused me of having harmed the establishment of the International by founding the Alliance of Socialist Democrats.
This issue concerning the ‘Alliance’ was set aside at the request of Eckarius [Eccarius], a member of the General Council, who noted that the Alliance had been recognised as a section of the International, that its programme as well as its statutes had attained the unanimous assent of the General Council in London, and that since its delegate had been received by the congress, there was no occasion for questioning its legitimacy.
As for the main question, the court found unanimously that my opponent had acted with a shameful thoughtlessness, accusing a member of the International on the basis of several defamatory articles published by a bourgeois journal.
This finding was given to me in writing. I must say also that my opponent [Liebknecht] nobly admitted before all that he had been misled concerning me – it was our first meeting – he gave me his hand, and before all present, I burned the statement written and signed by the court.40
This account by Bakunin about the court of honour at the Basel Congress has occasionally been doubted: for instance in his article ‘Social Democratic Flag and Anarchist Goods’ (‘Sozialdemokratische Flagge und anarchistische Ware’), the Bolshevik historian N. Ryazanov took great pains to discredit Bakunin’s account and even claimed later that he had proven that the entire story ‘was based on a series of misunderstandings and memory lapses by Bakunin’.41 The Bolshevik historian Yurii Steklov also didn’t believe Bakunin’s account of the court of honour.42
Aside from Bakunin’s account, there is a lot of evidence that the court of honour did take place: in addition to statements by Herzen, Nikolai Utin, James Guillaume, and César De Paepe from 1869 to 1871,43 there is also a letter from the delegate Friedrich Lessner where he reports directly to Marx from the Basel Congress (7 September 1869) that ‘Bakakunien [sic] chose a commission from among his people and Liebknecht did the same. We have thus come into a very nasty situation and Liebknecht wants our support against
Yesterday evening the jury sat on the matter of Bakuniem [sic] and Liebknecht. Letters were submitted by Becker, which he received from Bak. and a certain Werthheimer [sic] which shows that Liebknecht called Bak. a Russian spy etc. Liebknecht refuted this by saying: these weren’t his allegations, but only what was written in public newspapers and that he thus had nothing to deny, nor could he, and thus he did well to save his own neck.
Becker seems to be crazy about Bak.
Because I didn’t stay at the meeting until the end, I only found out today that they had settled their argument.45
In his manuscript ‘To the Citizen Editors of the Réveil’, Bakunin continued:
At the request of my former opponent [Liebknecht], I gave him a copy of my Berne speech,46 as well as a series of articles I had published in 1867 in an Italian newspaper, Liberta e Giustizia, against Pan-Slavism.47 Two days later, in the hall of congress, he approached me and said: ‘I see that I formed an absolutely false idea of you. You are a Proudhonist, since you wish the abolition of the state. I will fight you in my journal because my opinion is quite contrary to yours – but please do leave me your writings – I will publish them – I owe you that satisfaction’ […].48
Liebknecht did publish a translation of Bakunin’s A Few Words to My Young Brothers in Russia (Quelques paroles à mes jeunes frères en Russie) on 5 March 1870 and even had Samuel Spier, member of the Committee (Ausschuß) of the Social-Democratic Workers’ Party (Sozialdemokratische Arbeiterpartei, SDAP) founded in Eisenach, ask Bakunin for an original article.49 Liebknecht published Bakunin’s article ‘Letters About the Revolutionary Movement in Russia’ (‘Briefe über die revolutionäre Bewegung in Rußland’) on 16 and 20 April 1870 in the Volksstaat (the ‘organ of the SDAP’), for which he was fiercely criticised by his SDAP comrades. For example Johann Philipp Becker, who had switched sides in the meantime and joined Bakunin’s opponents in Geneva,50 demonstrated his new opposition to Bakunin in a letter to Liebknecht: ‘A few lines in great haste to call to your attention that you should be careful with Bakunin’s publications. […] You will also get hints from Marx, who is also well informed about Bakunin’s recent doings.’51
Very worried, Liebknecht wrote Marx somewhat sanctimoniously the day he received the letter: ‘Do you suggest I print further letters from Bakunin, nota bene, if he sends more? From the very start I had planned to draw him out so we could get him.’52 Marx must have sent Liebknecht a very blunt reply53 because Liebknecht subsequently sent his apologies to London on 7 May 1870: ‘If you had warned me in advance, I naturally wouldn’t have accepted the letter [from Bakunin], which I only published in order to attack Bakunin, whom I couldn’t touch because of his International membership.’54,
Despite such attempts to clear his name, Liebknecht still stood up for Bakunin right after the Basel Congress in connection with an article by the German journalist Moses Hess (1812–1875). Bakunin knew Hess casually from the time when both were emigrants living in Paris in the mid-1840s. They only met each other again in 1869 at the Basel Congress of the International, where they apparently got into two arguments.55 In September 1869, Hess – who had worked as a correspondent for German-language newspapers since the 1840s – wrote an article about the Basel Congress for the Demokratisches Wochenblatt published by Wilhelm Liebknecht. In the article, Hess explained that the ‘delegates, correspondents and observers’ were poorly informed about what he called ‘a kind of secret story of the Basel Congress’. Hess said his source for what actually happened in Basel was the General Council member Eccarius, whose disclosures would be printed in the Parisian newspaper Le Réveil shortly. The ‘true issue’ – as Hess gave to understand – was that the majority of the congress was made up of two tendencies (‘nuances’):
Only one of them – which forms a very small minority within the majority –, the Bakuninist, can truly be called communist in the raw sense of the word. This one suggested the abolition of the right of inheritance in a haphazard, dictatorial and anarchist way – a proposition which was evidently turned down by the congress, whose vote on this question […] remained a mystery to most. It is no longer one, when one considers the nuance of Bakunin within the majority.56
At that point, the article in the Demokratisches Wochenblatt was interrupted. The editor (Liebknecht) remarked parenthetically: ‘Our correspondent gives some more details that we will not publish in view of party interests. ED.’ Liebknecht, who had just been put in his place in Basel, apparently didn’t want to burn his fingers on Bakunin again in his paper. The eliminated passage of Hess’s article (reconstructed from another article he published in the Wöchentliche Illinois Staats-Zeitung from 19 October 1869) reads as follows:
Bakunin is accused of having Pan-Slavist tendencies and of only supporting anarchist measures in order to provoke a civil war in Europe so that Russia can conquer the West more easily. To me he appears to be more of a dreamer and an obsessively ambitious demagogue who would like to become a labour boss. It is well known that he came to Basel with the plan of moving the seat of General Council from London to Geneva, where he founded sections of the International over the last year and where he has got a few confused heads – like Philipp Briker [Becker] and various French party leaders – involved in his endeavour. However, he didn’t dare to come forward with his plan after he suffered a defeat in the question of inheritance.57
Why Bakunin ‘suffered a defeat in the question of inheritance’ – where the resolution he inspired was accepted by a majority and the General Council’s resolution proposal was clearly rejected – is just as inexplicable as the other bizarre details with which Hess peppered his article. However, it is clear, as we will see, that a detail from this incredible account was to become a staple in the polemic against Bakunin in the coming years: namely the claim that he had wanted to move the seat of the General Council to Geneva.
Hess went into even more detail in his peculiar analysis of the events in Basel in a two-part article that appeared as promised in the Parisian newspaper Le Réveil at the beginning of October 1869 under the headline ‘Collectivists and Communists at the Basel Congress’ (‘Les collectivistes et les communistes du congrès de Bâle’).58 Bakunin heard about Hess’s campaign from the big Parisian newspaper and immediately began writing a response. This grew into the extensive manuscript ‘To the Citizen Editors of the Réveil’, which remained unprinted in his lifetime.59
Bakunin began this manuscript with an outburst of anti-Jewish resentments, which strangely enough often appear in connection with his anti-German mentality – beginning with his row with Marx, who in his ‘threefold character as communist, German and Jew’60 had always been just as suspicious to him as Hess and other supporters of Marx’s campaign against Bakunin in the International. In fact, the conflict in the International seems to have set off Bakunin’s anti-Jewish resentments, which emerged for the most part between 1869 and 1874 – i.e. during his feud with Marx.61 This resentment, which can be seen in various polemics and disparaging remarks, runs contrary to the anarchist ideas for which Bakunin became famous. It has thus been argued that Bakunin’s anti-Jewish gaffes should be considered separately from his political arguments.62 On the other hand, one must ask oneself how such a passionate advocate of freedom and self-determination like Bakunin could cultivate such crude prejudices?63 One possible explanation is that Bakunin resorted to deep-seated patterns of reasoning in the heat of the argument, which he learned from his family and during his socialisation in the Russian feudal aristocracy. The outbursts might even represent a commonplace anti-Jewish (and ostensibly anti-capitalist) sentiment, which a wide variety of European socialists – from Fourier, Leroux and Blanqui to Marx – shared in the 19th century. In this respect, it would be interesting to study how much the zeitgeist of the 19th century and family and social-psychological influences were responsible for Bakunin’s anti-Jewish clichés, in order to find out whether these statements are compatible with other more coherent positions – for example when he vehemently called for ‘respect for freedom of conscience’, ‘Absolute freedom of conscience and worship’, and ‘Absolute freedom of religious associations’.64
In his manuscript ‘To the Citizen Editors of the Réveil’, Bakunin only reacted to attacks he assumed came from Marx’s associates. Bakunin counted Sigismund Borkheim (1825–1885), a ruthless hater of Russia, among them. After taking part in the Revolution of 1848/49, Borkheim first went into exile in Switzerland and then London where he worked in several commercial professions beginning in 1851.65 For the founding congress of the League of Peace and Liberty in September 1867, Borkheim had prepared a hawkish speech against Russia, which had to be interrupted because of tumultuous protests in the audience.66 Bakunin later described Borkheim’s speech as having been ‘inspired, it is said, if not actually dictated, by citizen Karl Marx himself’.67 Marx had indeed given Borkheim suggestions while he was working on his scandalous Geneva speech and even wrote parts of it: in a letter to Engels from 4 October 1867, Marx described his contribution to the speech as ‘catchwords, which I whispered into his ear’.68 He was a bit more careful toward the Hanoverian social democrat Ludwig Kugelmann: Marx wrote that ‘he [Borkheim] is a personal friend of mine. There are in his speech, etc., a number of phrases in which he has fatuously garbled certain views of mine.’69
From July to November 1869, Borkheim published a four-part series of articles in the Berlin democratic newspaper Die Zukunft titled ‘Michael Bakunin’, which once again came about upon consultation with Marx and Engels. Borkheim sent Engels the rough concept for his text about Bakunin on 10 February 1869, writing: ‘Please read the enclosed passages, which I wrote quickly last night. Send them on to Marx with comments that you deem necessary for my article “Bakunin” to be published in Die Zukunft.’70 Engels suggested that Borkheim target the ‘Pan-Slav pack’ in his article,71 and indeed, the article ended up an anti-Russian diatribe, which included the following:
Only if one lacked any understanding of Slavic affairs and mistrusted any movement could one label [Bakunin] a Russian spy in the pay of the Petersburg government. He should not be watched any less closely for this reason […]. The effect on our affairs is always equally damaging, and as every sane Russian is a Pan-Slavist, the older refugee Turgenieff just like the younger Bakunin […], these gentlemen should understand for once and for all that they are suspicious to us for this reason. They should be all the more careful in their public appearances in Europe and should not butt into our party business, much less butt us out. Who do the Russian refugees represent? […] The Russians being considered here are Pan-Slavists who are satisfied with the government or not. The loudest of the aforementioned have to wander across the border from time to time for reasons of state. Thus, all Russian refugees are instinctively enemies of our culture. They can’t help it! May the Tsar save them! Amen!72
Bakunin heard about the first part of Borkheim’s bizarre article shortly after it was published.73 In his manuscript ‘To the Citizen Editors of the Réveil’, Bakunin commented on it as follows:
I have wished, Messieurs, that one of you should have the patience to read these three or four articles that have been published in this journal under the title ‘Michael Bakunin’. As for me, I avow that I have never before read anything so confused, so odiously ridiculous and stupid, as this latest tirade by Mr Borkheim, next to which the article by Mr Maurice Hess attacking me could pass for a model of clarity and honesty.74
Bakunin was referring to the latest slander against him: the report on the Basel Congress by Hess, where, among other things, he accused Bakunin of planning to move the General Council to Geneva. Hess wrote:
A Russian party75 did not yet exist at the previous congresses of the International. It is only in the course of the previous year that an attempt to change the organisation and principles of the International, and even to move the seat of the General Council from London to Geneva, was made by Bakunin, a Russian patriot whose revolutionary good faith we doubt not, but who cherishes fanciful projects no less to be condemned than the means of action he employs to achieve them.76
In reality, not Bakunin but the General Council members themselves – including Marx – were behind the initiative to move the General Council. On 28 June 1870, for example, Marx suggested to the General Council ‘that the General Council be transferred from London to Brussels. We must not let it crop up as a privilege that the Council sits in London. The Congress may not accept the proposition then we can put conditions.’77 Marx had already considered a similar tactical manoeuvre on the eve of the Brussels Congress of the International (6–13 September 1868), about which he wrote Engels:
Now, when the Germans will join the ‘International Workingmen’s Association’ en masse, with the Association, for the time being, filling out at least the boundaries of its main territory – though it is still thin on the ground – my plan is that the General Council should move to Geneva for the next year and that we should function here only as the Britannic Council. It appears a shrewd move to me if the proposal comes from us.78
Although Engels disagreed because of power politics (‘the more splendidly things go, the more important it is that you should keep them in your hands’), Marx insisted on the option ‘to vote for Geneva’ in order to block a possible move of the General Council to Brussels or Paris and prevent any of the associated Proudhonist influences.79 The topic became relevant again one year later – before the Basel Congress (6–11 September 1869) – when Marx considered threatening the congress with the transfer of the Council to the Continent because of the bad payment morale in the International and the resulting horrible financial situation of the General Council. In a letter to Engels on 4 August 1869, he describes the financial situation of the General Council as ‘international bankruptcy’ and continued: ‘We shall be forced to declare to the next congress, either in written or spoken form, that we cannot continue to run the General Council in this way; but that they should be so kind, before they give us successors, to pay our debts’.80 At the last meeting of the General Council before the Basel Congress, their ‘delegates were instructed to press the financial question seriously upon the Congress’.81
Apparently the threat shocked the participants at the Basel Congress quite a bit. James Guillaume, who was Le Locle’s congress delegate, later remembered:
the delegates of the General Council at the Basel Congress, Lucraft, Cowell Stepney, Jung, Eccarius and Lessner, proposed, in the name of the Council, that its seat be fixed in Brussels for the year 1869–1870. The proposal for this change surprised and alarmed us: we felt that London was the city where the General Council was safest from governmental and police harassment, and we were afraid to see, in Brussels, the despotism and violence of the Belgian government threaten its freedom of action. Accordingly, we pressed this point most urgently, so that our friends in London should preserve the mandate with which they had been charged since the foundation of the Association. In light of the unanimity of the wishes expressed, they declared that they accepted.82
In his Mémoire (memorandum) of the Jura Federation (1873), Guillaume also recalled that the delegates of the General Council ‘had themselves proposed that the General Council be moved to Brussels’.83 This makes the accusations launched by Moses Hess in the Réveil that Bakunin wanted to move the General Council to Geneva all the more strange. On 16 October 1869 – two weeks after the publication of Hess’s attack – Hess was asked the following by Guillaume in his newspaper the Progrès: ‘What is this prodigious project of moving the General Council to Geneva? Socialists of Romance Switzerland, which of us, we ask you, has dreamed of such a thing?’84
Bakunin also defended himself against this bizarre accusation in his manuscript ‘To the Citizen Editors of the Réveil’. According to Bakunin, Hess’s article in the Réveil included
another ridiculous lie concerning attempts I made, according to him, to move the General Council from London to Geneva. No one has said this to him, no one could have said this to him, because I would have been the first to fight with all possible energy against such a measure had anyone proposed it, so fatal would it seem to me for the future of the International.
The Geneva sections have, it is true, made immense progress in a very short time. But a rather narrow spirit still reigns in Geneva, a spirit that is too specifically Genevan, for the General Council of the International Working Men’s Association to be located there. Besides, it is obvious that as long as the present political organisation of Europe lasts, London shall remain the only suitable location for it, and one would have to be crazy or actually an enemy of the International to want to move it anywhere else.85
The suspicion that Bakunin speculated on moving the General Council to Geneva doesn’t pan out for another reason: in private letters from 23 July 1869 onward (six weeks before the Basel Congress), Bakunin signalled that he would be leaving Geneva after the congress.86 On 13 August 1869 (three weeks before the congress), Bakunin told the Committee of the Geneva Alliance about his intention to move.87 What did Bakunin expect to gain from the General Council’s move to Geneva if he wasn’t going to live there? In fact, Bakunin continued in later years to refer to London as the only possible seat of the General Council.88
The rumour started by Hess was dealt with as a matter of fact by Marx and Engels despite the apparent contradictions. It even entered the annals of Marxist history: even in 1978, the publishers of the complete works of Marx and Engels – commissioned by the central committees of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany and Communist Party of the Soviet Union – repeated the accusation in their own special way: ‘After the Bakuninists failed to move the seat of the General Council to Geneva at the Basel Congress in 1869, they continued their divisive activities within the International.’89
Bakunin’s first strategy: attack not Marx but his associates
As Bakunin’s standpoint on the dispute with Liebknecht, Borkheim, and Hess in the manuscript ‘To the Citizen Editors of the Réveil’ got bigger and bigger without coming to an end, he sent the half-finished manuscript through an acquaintance to his friend, the veteran emigrant Alexander Herzen (Gertsen) in Paris, and asked him to copyedit it with a view to publishing it as a book.90 Included was a short reply for the Réveil dated 18 October 1869,91 which Bakunin asked Herzen to give to the Parisian newspaper. After a fierce argument between Herzen and the chief editor Charles Delescluze,92 a short reply by Alexander Herzen was finally published in the Réveil on 22 October 1869.93 The reply was accompanied by an editorial note that said, among other things: ‘The Réveil has fought against Mr Bakunin’s theories, and it will fight them again when need be, while appreciating the energetic convictions of this ardent adversary of Russia’s imperial despotism.’94
After Herzen achieved this acceptable result, he must have written Bakunin a letter disapproving of his hesitant strategy with Marx; as mentioned before, Bakunin had not criticised Marx at all in his manuscript ‘To the Citizen Editors of the Réveil’. Bakunin even considered Marx (along with Lassalle) one of the
most eminent socialists of our time […] I have no need to tell you, Messieurs, what these two men have done and what one of them continues to do for the development and propagation of the socialist idea. Marx is rightly considered as one of the principal founders of the International Working Men’s Association.95
Instead of attacking Marx directly, Bakunin had at first only set his sight on people like Borkheim who were associates of Marx. He justified his strategy in his reply to Herzen on 26 October 1869 with the following words:
As regards Marx this is my answer: I know as well as you that Marx is as much to blame as all the others and that he was even the instigator and inspirer of all the dirty tricks used against us. Why I pitied and even praised him, called him a great man? For two reasons, Herzen – the first: fairness. Leaving aside the dirty tricks he has used against us we, or, at least I, have to acknowledge that he has enormous merits for the cause of socialism, which he has been serving intelligently, energetically and loyally for almost 25 years now […] undoubtedly more than any of us. He was one of the first and almost the main founder of the Intern. Association – in my view an enormous merit which I will always acknowledge, whatever he has done against us. The second reason is politics and, in my view, very proper tactics. – I know, you consider me a very poor politician. – But, please, don’t call me narcissistic if I tell you that you are mistaken. The matter is that you judged and judge me by my behaviour in the civilized society, in the bourgeois world – and, it’s true, in that world I behave inconsiderately and totally unceremoniously, not caring about my words, with brazen straightforwardness. But do you know why? Because I consider that world not worth a farthing, I don’t consider that world able to produce anything or to act in any way. I know perfectly well that the bourgeoisie has sufficient material means left, sufficient organisation and power to run the state routine, much more than would be desirable. – But we have to fight this force, we have to destroy it […]. – So, I agree with you I’m not a politician or tactician in the bourgeois world and in bourgeois matters and I don’t want to be neither a politician nor a tactician in that world. – But you are very mistaken if you conclude that I behave also inconsiderately or, rather, that I behave in the same way in the workers’ world. […]. – May the way I deal with Marx, who cannot stand me, neither, I think, anybody except himself and those close to him – may my politics and tactics with regard to him serve as proof.
Marx is undoubtedly useful for the Intern. Association. He continues to be one of the toughest, most intelligent and most influential pillars of socialism, – one of the strongest barriers against all attempts to infect socialism with bourgeois tendencies and ideas. And I would never forgive myself if, out of revengefulness, I were to destroy or even to diminish his undoubtedly beneficial influence. – I may and probably will soon start fighting him, not because he has offended me personally but for reasons of principle, because of state communism of which he and the party he leads, the English and the German party, are passionate advocates. – Our fight will be a mortal struggle. However, all things in due course. That time hasn’t come yet.
There was also tactics and personal politics in my pitying and extolling him. How is it possible that you don’t see that all these gentlemen taken together, our enemies, are a phalanx which we ought to split up, to break up, so as to smash it more easily. – You have made more studies than I and, so, know better than I who first said: divide et impera [divide and rule]. – Should I start an open war with Marx now three quarters of the Intern. world would turn against me and I would be in a bad position and lose the only ground on which I want to stand. – If I start with an attack on the rabble that supports him I will have the majority behind me and Marx himself, who, as you know, revels in others’ bad luck, will be very happy that I attacked his friends separately. – If my calculation turns out to be wrong and he defends his friends it’s he who starts the open war – in that case I will step back and come off best. – Why did I attack Hess so vehemently? – Because he wrote an intentionally mean article against me, – but in the first place because he was the first to try to bring nasty slander against us into circulation in the French press.96
Herzen answered Bakunin on 28 October 1869:
I don’t like your politics. You will never make a Machiavelli with your ‘divide’ … I absolutely disagree with your following the example of the Russian censorship – that allowed reproving clerks but not generals. You don’t want to attack Marx so as not to spoil your relationship with him? All right, but then leave also Hess and c[ompa]ny alone. That’s my advice and opinion.97
In the case of Hess, this tactic would have been correct because there was no evidence at the time of a coordinated action between Marx and Hess. Hess, who had himself been a victim of one of Marx’s destructive campaigns, appears to have sought reconciliation with Marx through his polemic against Bakunin; his effort apparently did not fail completely as Marx seems to have stopped attacking Hess in 1869.98
While Bakunin followed his first strategy – repelling only the assaults from Marx’s associates – for more than a year (until the end of 1870), it doesn’t seem as if Marx was following any strategy at all: Marx’s reactions to Bakunin during this time can be described as uncoordinated temper tantrums.