Social and Political Anarchism

Social Anarchism and Political Anarchism and The Criticism Of Authority

Stirner spent his life between his study and the Hippel Restaurant, the rendezvous of his friends. Bakunin and Kropotkin were men of a different stamp, who risked their freedom, and even their lives, for the sake of the cause which they had at heart. It is true that the seed sown in the mind of the ignorant as the result of their teaching often had most deplorable results, but no one can deny the quality of courage to either Kropotkin or Reclus, or withhold from them the title of greatness of both mind and character.

Bakunin was reared in much the same intellectual atmosphere as Stirner. By birth he belonged to the Russian nobility, and spent the earliest years of his life in the Russian army. In 1834, at the age of twenty, he resigned his commission in order to devote himself to the study of philosophy, and, like Proudhon, Stirner, and Marx, he came under the universal spell of Hegel. In 1840 he proceeded to Berlin, where he became acquainted with the school of young Radicals of whom we have already spoken. From 1844 to 1847 we find him in Paris, where he used to spend whole nights in discussion with Proudhon.

Proudhon's influence upon him is very marked, and one constantly meets with passages in the writings of the Russian anarchist which are nothing but paraphrases of ideas already put forward by Proudhon in the Idee generale de la Revolution au XIX siecle. The year 1848 revealed to the dilettante nobleman his true vocation, which he conceived to be that of a revolutionary. He successively took part in the risings at Prague and in the Saxon Revolution at Dresden. He was arrested and twice condemned to death, in Saxony and again in Austria, but was finally handed over to the Russian authorities, who imprisoned him in the fortress of St Peter and St Paul, where an attack of scurvy caused him to lose all his teeth. He was exiled to Siberia in 1857, but managed to escape in 1861. Making his way to London, he undertook the direction of a vigorous revolutionary campaign, which was carried on in Switzerland, Italy, and France. During the years 1870 and 1871 he successfully planned a popular rising at Lyons. Bernard Lazare has graphically described him as
a hirsute giant with an enormous head which seems larger than it really is because of the mass of bushy hair and untrimmed beard which surrounds it. He always sleeps rough, has no roof above him, and no homeland which he can call his own, and like an apostle is always prepared to set out on his sacred mission at any hour of the night or day.

The most striking fact in his history was his rupture with Karl Marx at the last International Congress, held at The Hague in 1872. Bakunin joined the International in 1869. Disgusted with the pontifical tendencies of the General Council, which was entirely under the heel of Marx, he proposed a scheme of federal organization under which each section would be left with considerable autonomy. The Jura Federation supported his proposals, and so did several of the French, Belgian, and Spanish delegates, as well as all the Italian. But he was expelled from the International by Marx's own friends. The official rupture between Marxian socialism and anarchy, grown to consider­able proportions since, dates from that very moment. That Hague congress marks also the end of the International. Marx soon after­wards transferred the centre of the administration to the United States, and no conference was held afterwards. Bakunin also retired from the struggle about the same time, but not before he had set up a new association at Geneva, composed of a few faithful friends. In 1876 Bakunin died at Berne.

It was in the region of the Jura, in the neighbourhood of Neuchatel, where Bakunin had still a few followers among the extremely indi­vidualistic but somewhat mystical population of those parts, that Kropotkin in the course of a short stay in the district in 1872 imbibed those anarchist ideas to the propagation of which he so strenuously devoted his life. Although personally unacquainted with Bakunin, Kropotkin must be regarded as his direct descendant.

Prince Kropotkin also was a Russian aristocrat, and he, like his master, joined the army after a short period of study. He attracted public notice first of all as the author of several remarkable works deal­ing with natural history and geography, which showed him to be a confirmed disciple of Darwin. But science was by no means his only interest. By 1871 Hegelian influence was on the wane in Russia, and the more thoughtful of the younger generation turned their attention to democracy.

The new watchword was, "Go, seek the people, live among them, educate them and win their confidence if you want to get rid of the yoke of autocracy." Kropotkin caught the inspiration. He himself has told us how one evening after dinner at the Winter Palace he drove off in a cab, took off his fine clothes, and, putting on a cotton shirt instead of his silk one, and boots such as the peasants wore, hurried away to another quarter of the city and joined a number of working men whom he was trying to educate. But his propaganda proved short-lived, for one evening when he was leaving the head­quarters of the Geographical Society, where he had just been reading a paper and had been offered the presidency of one of the sections, he was arrested on a charge of political conspiracy and imprisoned in the fortress of St Peter and St Paul. He managed to escape in 1876, and found refuge in England. Afterwards he was wrongfully condemned to three years' imprisonment at Clairvaux on account of his supposed complicity in an anarchist outbreak which took place at Lyons in 1884. But there was something extraordinary about a prisoner who could get the libraries of Ernest Renan and the Paris Academy of Sciences placed at his disposal during his term of imprisonment to enable him to pursue his scientific investigations. During his previous imprisonment in Russia the Geographical Society of St Peters­burg had extended him a similar privilege. Afterwards Kropotkin lived in England, which he left after the Bolshevik Revolution to return to his country.

The best-known French anarchists, Flisee Reclus, the geographer, and Jean Grave, simply reproduce Kropotkin's ideas, with an occa­sional admixture of Bakunin's or Proudhon's.

Our concern is with the expression of anarchist ideas as we find them in the best-known writers of the school. Consequently we must pass over the very striking but immature formulas which are not infrequently to be met with in the works of more obscure writers.

Here again the distinguishing features are the emphasis laid upon individual rights and a passion for the free and full development of personality, which, as we have seen, was the keynote of Stirner's system. "Obedience means abdication," declares filisee Reclus. "Mankind's subjection will continue just so long as it is tolerated. I am ashamed of my fellow-men," writes Proudhon in 1850 from his prison at Doullens. "My liberty," says Bakunin, "or what comes to the same thing, my honour as a man, consists in obeying no other individual and in performing only just those acts that carry conviction to me." Jean Grave declares that society can impose "no limitations upon the individual save such as are derived from the natural condi­tions under which he lives."

But this cult of the individual which is present everywhere in anarchist literature rests upon a conception which is the direct anti­thesis of Stirner's. To Stirner every man was a unique being whose will was his only law. The anarchists who follow Proudhon, on the other hand, regard man as a specimen of humanity, i.e., of some­thing superior to the individual. " What I respect in my neighbour is his manhood," wrote Proudhon. It is this humanity or manhood that the anarchist would have us respect by respecting his liberty, for, as Bakunin declares, "liberty is the supreme aim of all human develop­ment." It is not the triumph of the egoist but the triumph of humanity in the individual that the anarchists would seek, and so they claim liberty not merely for themselves but for all men. Far from wishing to be served by their fellow-men, as Stirner desired, they want equal respect shown for human dignity wherever found. "Treat others as you would that others should treat you under similar circumstances," writes Kropotkin, employing Kantian and even Christian phraseology. Bakunin, a faithful disciple of Proudhon's, considered that "all morality is founded on human respect, that is to say, upon the recogni­tion of the humanity, of the human rights and worth in all men, of whatever race or colour, degree of intellectual or moral development" and he adds that the individual can only become free when every other individual is free. Liberty is not an isolated fact. It is the outcome of mutual goodwill; a principle not of exclusion, but of inclusion, the liberty of each individual being simply the reflection of his humanity or of his rights as a human being in the conscience of every free man, his brother and equal.

This idea of humanity, which the latest anarchists owe to Proudhon, is not simply foreign to Stirner, but is just one of those phantoms which Stirner was particularly anxious to waylay.

Along with this extravagant worship of individual liberty goes a hatred of all authority. Here the political anarchists join hands with Stirner. For the exercise of authority of one man over another means the exploitation of one man by another and a denial of his humanity. The State is the summation of all authority, and the full force of anarchist hatred is focused upon the State. No human relation is too sacred for State intervention, no citizen but is liable to have his con­duct minutely prescribed by law. There are officers to apply the law, armies to enforce it, lecturers to interpret it, priests to inculcate respect for it, and jurists to expound it and to justify everybody. Thus has the State become the agent par excellence of all exploitation and oppres­sion. It is the one adversary, in the opinion of every anarchist—"the sum total of all that negates the liberty of its members." "It is the grave where every trace of individuality is sacrificed and buried." Elsewhere, "it is a flagrant negation of humanity." Bakunin, who in this matter as well as in many others is a follower of Bastiat, speaks of it as "the visible incarnation of infuriated force." That is enough to label it for ever with the evil things of life, for the aim of humanity is liberty, but force is "a permanent negation of liberty."

A necessary agent of oppression, government always and inevitably becomes the agent of corruption. It contaminates everything that comes into contact with it, and the first to show signs of such contamina­tion are its own representatives.

The best man, whoever that may be, whatever degree of intelli­gence, magnanimity, and purity of heart he may have, is unavoid­ably corrupted by his trade. The person who enjoys any privilege, whether political or economic, is intellectually and morally a depraved character.

So Bakunin thought, and filisee Reclus writes in a similar strain. '' Every tree in nature bears its own peculiar fruit, and government whatever be the form it take, always results in caprice or tyranny, in misery, villainy, murder, and evil." The governing classes are inevitably demoralized, but so are the governed, and for just the same reasons. Government is a worker of evil even when it would do good, for "the good whenever it is enjoined becomes evil. Liberty, morality, real human dignity consists in this, that man should do what is good not because he is told to do it, but simply because he thinks that it really is the best that he can ever wish or desire."

It matters little what form government takes. Absolute or constitu­tional monarchy, democratic or aristocratic republicanism, govern­ment on the basis of a universal or a restricted suffrage, are all much the same, for they all presuppose a State of some sort. Authority, whether of a despot or of the majority of the community, is none the less authority, and implies the exercise of a will other than the indi­vidual's own. The great error committed by all the revolutions of the past has been this: one government has been turned out, but only to have its place usurped by another. The only true revolution will be that which will get rid of government itself—the fount and origin of all authority.

Still closer scrutiny reveals the interesting fact that the State, which is naturally oppressive, gradually becomes employed as the instrument for the subjugation of the weak by the strong, the poor by the rich. It was Adam Smith who ventured to declare that "civil government ... is in reality instituted for the defence of the rich against the poor, or of those who have some property against those who have none at all." Pages of anarchist literature simply consist of elaborate para­phrases of this remark of Smith's.

Kropotkin thinks that every law must belong to one or other of three categories. To the first category belong all laws concerned with the security of the individual; to the second all laws concerned with the protection of government; and to the third all those enactments where the chief object in view is the inviolability of private property. In the opinion of the anarchist, all laws might more correctly be placed under the last category only, for whenever the safety of the individual is in any way threatened it is generally the result of some inequality of fortune. Indirectly, that is to say, the attack is directed against property. The real function of government is to defend property, and every law which is instrumental in protecting property is also effective in shielding the institution of government from attack.

Property itself is an organization which enables a small minority of proprietors to exploit and to hold in perpetual slavery the masses of the people. In this instance the anarchists have not made any weighty contribution of their own, but have merely adopted the criticisms of the socialists. Proceeding in the usual fashion, they point to the miserable wages which are usually paid to the workers, and show how the masters always manage to reserve all the leisure, all the joys of existence, all the culture and other benefits of civilization for them­selves. Private property is of the essence of privilege—the parent of every other kind of privilege. And the State becomes simply the bulwark of privilege. "Exploitation and government," says Bakunin, "are correlative terms indispensable to political life of every kind. Exploitation supplies the means as well as the foundation upon which government is raised, and the aim which it follows, which is merely to legalize and defend further exploitation." "Experience teaches us," says Proudhon, "that government everywhere, however popular at first, has always been on the side of the rich and the educated as against the poor and ignorant masses."

Whether the extinction of private property, which would free the worker from the danger of being exploited by the rich, would also render the State unnecessary is a question upon which the anarchists are not agreed. Proudhon, we remember, hoped by means of the Exchange Bank to reduce the right of property to mere possession. Bakunin, on the contrary, was under the spell of the Marxians, and, like a true collectivist, he thought that all the instruments of production, including land, should be possessed by the community. Such instru­ments should always be at the disposal of groups of working men expert in the details of agriculture or industrial production, and such workers should be paid according to their labour. Kropotkin, on the other hand, regarded communism as the ideal and looked upon the distinction drawn by the collectivist between instruments of production and objects of consumption as utterly futile. Food, clothing, and fuel were quite as necessary for production as machinery or tools, and nothing was gained by emphasizing the distinction between them. Social resources of every kind should be freely placed at the disposal of the workers.

But the State and the institution of private property by no means exhaust the list of tyrannies. Individual liberty is as little compatible with irrevocable vows—that is, with a present promise which binds for ever the will of man—as it is with submission to external authority. The present marriage law, for example, violates both these conditions. Marriage ought to be a free union. A contract freely entered upon and deliberately fulfilled is the only form of marriage that is compatible with the true dignity and equality of both man and woman. A free and not a legal contract is the only form of engagement which the anarchists recognize. Free contract between man and wife, between an individual and an association, between different associations pursuing the same task, between one commune and another, or between a commune and a whole country. But such engagements must always be revocable, otherwise they would merely constitute another link in the chain that has shackled humanity. Every contract that is not voluntarily and frequently renewed becomes tyrannical and oppressive and constitutes a standing menace to human liberty. "Because I was a fool yesterday, must I remain one all my life?" asks Stirner; and on this point Bakunin, Kropotkin, Reclus, Jean Grave, and even Proudhon are agreed.

To regard their social philosophy as nothing but pure caprice because of the wonderful faith which they had in their fellow-men would, however, be a great mistake.

Notwithstanding the merciless criticism of authority of every kind, there was still left one autocrat, of a purely abstract character, perhaps, but none the less imperious in its demands. This was the authority of reason or of science. The sovereignty of reason was one of the essential features of Proudhon's anarchist society. What Proudhon calls reason Bakunin refers to as science, but his obeisance is not a whit less devotional. " We recognize," says he,

the absolute authority of science and the futility of contending with natural law. No liberty is possible for man unless he recognize this and seek to turn this law to his own advantage. No one except a fool or a theologian, or perhaps a metaphysician, a jurist, or a bourgeois economist, would revolt against the mathematical law which declares that 2 +2=4.

The utmost that a man can claim in this matter is that "he obeys the laws of nature because he himself has come to regard them as neces­sary, and not because they have been imposed upon him by some external authority."

Not only does Bakunin bow the knee to science, but he also swears allegiance to technical or scientific skill.
In the matter of boots I am willing to accept the authority of the shoemaker; of clothes, the opinion of the tailor; if it is a house, a canal, or a railway, I consult the architect and the engineer. What I respect is not their office but their science, not the man but his knowledge. I cannot, however, allow any one of them to impose upon me, be he shoemaker, tailor, architect, or savant. I listen to them willingly and with all the respect which their intelligence, character, or knowledge deserves, but always reserving my undis­puted right of criticism and control.

Bakunin has no doubt that most men willingly and spontaneously acknowledge the natural authority of science. He agrees with Descartes and employs almost identical terms when he declares that "common sense is one of the commonest things in the world." But common sense simply means "the totality of the generally recognized laws of nature." He shares with the Physiocrats a belief in their obviousness, and invokes their authority whenever he makes a vow. He is also anxious to make them known and acceptable of all men through the instrumentality of a general system of popular education. The moment they are accepted by "the universal conscience of mankind the question of liberty will be completely solved." Let us again note how redolent all this is of the rationalistic optimism of the eighteenth century, and how closely Liberals and anarchists resemble one another in their absolute faith in the "sweet reasonableness" of mankind. Bakunin only differs from the Physiocrats in his hatred of the despot whom they had enthroned.

A society of free men, perfectly autonomous, each obeying only him­self, but subservient to the authority of reason and science—such is the ideal which the anarchists propose, a preliminary consideration of its realization being the overthrow of every established authority.

"No God and no master," says Jean Grave; "every one obeying his own will."