Mikhail Bakunin and the Anarchism

Mikhail Bakunin
(1814 – 1876)

On May 30, 1814 (julian calendar May 18), Russian revolutionary and philosopher Mikhail Alexandrovich Bakunin was born. Although many scholars argue if he is the founder of anarchist theory in general, he was the leading theorist of collectivist anarchism.

Mikhail Alexandrovich Bakunin grew up in a quite politically active family with his father being a diplomat. At the age of 14, he was sent to military school in Saint Petersburg followed by his duty as an officer in the Russian Imperial Guard until 1835. After disputes with his family, Bakunin left his career for Moscow, where he hoped to become a philosopher.

Settled in Moscow, Bakunin made numerous friends forming a philosopher circle discussing the ideas of Kant, Schelling, Fichte, and Hegel. The young philosopher then moved to Berlin to begin his academic career, where he was influenced by a rising socialist movement. The career his father wished for was quickly abandoned, after Bakunin put more and more effort in the revolution, which highly dissatisfied the Russian government as well.

In the following years, Mikhail Bakunin lived in various European cities, being influenced by the philosophies of Marx, Engels, and befriended philosophers. He wrote several articles, eventually calling himself a communist at certain times. His activities in the revolution were showing increasing effects in Europe and the governments of several countries, including his own Russia and Austria searched for him and threatened life time imprisonment and death penalty.

In the 1850’s a long term imprisonment of Mikhail Bakunin followed after Austria handed the revolutionary over to the Russian officials. During these years, he suffered physically and mentally, and seven years later he was sent to permanent exile near Tomsk. Bakunin managed to escape from exile and traveled through Europe, but always focusing on Italy, which he arrived in 1864.

His stay in Italy was a great influence to Bakunin, since he developed his initial anarchist theories there. Bakunin founded the secret Alliance of Revolutionary Socialists along with like minded across Europe. The group was active all over the continent, opposing all kinds of hierarchical systems, authority and religion. Mikhail Bakunin rejected capitalism as he found it completely incompatible with everyone’s individual freedom. He also criticized many of Marx’s ideas, claiming that a communist state Marx’s pledged for would enforce a dangerous dictatorship.

As Bakunin’s disagreements with Karl Marx grew, he is now remembered as one of his greatest opponents, even though Marx and Bakunin had much in common. Mikhail Bakunin’s ideas influenced many political activists of during his life time and beyond. For instance Noam Chomsky, the famous American philosopher, logician, historian, political critic, and activist was critically influenced by Bakunin just as Neil Postman.

At yovisto, you may enjoy a video lecture by history Professor John Merriman, talking about Radicals as part of his ‘European Civilization, 1648-1945‘ lecture at Yale University.

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