1.1. Bakunin (or, Origins)

In the history of anarchist ideas, Mikhail Aleksandrovič Bakunin (1814-1876) represents a fundamental stage and is without doubt the basis for every form of class-struggle anarchism. His adventure-filled life, together with a distinct lack of any systematic approach, means that what was said above regarding the necessity for tiresome reconstruction of trains of thought is completely true where he is concerned, coherent and organic though his thought may be. Clues spread here and there throughout pamphlets, articles, letters, notes and so on are normally what constitute his analysis of the moment and are therefore destined to be used for the most disparate purposes, given the fact that they have never been arranged into one collection which could serve to clarify them one and for all. Even so, careful reading of his work should not lead to excessive misunderstandings (unless that is what one wants). As we have said, though, that job will be for another time. Here, what we are trying to do is simply trace the basic elements of his thoughts as part of the process of the development of Anarchist Communist theory.

Mikhail Bakunin

His work, in fact, already included some of the distinctive elements of this theory, such as what the new society should be like, the role of the vanguard, organizational dualism and the need for a revolutionary strategy which grows from consciousness of the economic and class relations of the current situation at any time. Each of these topics will be dealt with later. At this point, we are simply emphasising Bakunin's contribution to their definition.

It is thanks to him that Anarchism was able to move on from the proto-Anarchist wastelands of Godwin and Proudhon, free itself from the myth of the individual and his freedom guaranteed by possession, and become genuinely collectivist and, later still, communist. The future society which he imagined was federalist, based on the free union of local communes and productive communes and which was anti-hierarchical but which was no longer (as under Proudhon) centred on the nucleus of the artisan family, proud of its skills and the owners of the necessary means of production. Instead, these means were to become considered to be under collective management through the workings of producers' and consumers' associations.

The role of the vanguard in the revolutionary process was a constant source of worry for Bakunin. "If the popular risings in Lyons, Marseilles and other cities in France were failures, it is because of a lack of organization [...]". For him, the organization must be composed of individuals who were conscious of their aims, who were in agreement and who were therefore much more united. His taste for conspiracy, which was part of his impulsively romantic nature, combined with the need for clandestinity (something which was clearly essential given the times in which he lived) led him towards an almost too rigid conception of organization, one which was unacceptable not only to most Anarchists, but even to the most hard-bitten Marxists one could hope to meet. If any convincing is needed, just read a few pages of the pamphlet "To the Officers of the Russian Army". But even though these extreme positions (conceived as they were under the influence of Sergei Gennadievich Nechaev) may seem almost folkloristic, the fact remains that Bakunin did conceive of the organization of conscious class-struggle militants (Anarchist Communists) as a structure which took its decisions in a democratic way but which was disciplined, where the roles that each played corresponded to the assumption of responsibilities without which the group could not function or be effective. All this was possible without getting lost in sophistry over the need for every individual to have freedom of action, something which has gravely retarded the development of the Anarchist movement. There were two good reasons for all this. The first is that membership of the organization is voluntary, which in itself requires clarity regarding the rules which the organization uses in order to develop its revolutionary action and, of course, acceptance of these rules. The second reason is that the political organization is not, for Bakunin at least, the forerunner of the future society which must instead permeate through the lives of the masses, and cannot therefore mirror it in any way, but must simply respond to its tasks in the most efficient way possibly.

Which leads us to the third basic characteristic of Bakuninist thought - the strict separation between the political organization and that of the proletariat. The former, conscious of its aims, organized and disciplined, is at the heart of the revolution, directing its evolution, promoting and supporting it. The latter, gathering all the exploited masses to it, is the one which actually makes the revolution and builds the society of free equals by following an arduous path through the inevitable initial chaos. In making this distinction, there is no hint of leaderist Blanquism (or, as we would call it today, Leninism), as the organization of the revolutionary vanguard has no role to play unless it is within the larger workers' organization. It does not take their place when decisions are to be made, it simply limits itself to trying to guide, to steer the masses along their revolutionary path.

In order to do this, the political structure of the revolutionary vanguard must not only enunciate principles, as sterile as they are correct. It must set forth concrete proposals relevant to the time and place where it acts. This means analysing the historical context wherever it operates as Bakunin himself did admirably when he analysed the situation in Italy and suggested what he thought would be useful in his letter to the Italian internationalists addressed to Celso Ceretti. All this without underestimating some aspects which, although they may seem peripheral, are in fact fundamental if the organization is to be properly effective, such as financing and making available resources which will allow it to exist.

These four principles, proposed clearly for the first time by Bakunin, will always be part of the evolution of Anarchist Communist theory and represent its permanent framework.


1.2. Fabbri (or, Maturity)