Bourgeois Socialism

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By Michael Bakunin.

(Letter to the Press Committee of "Egalite" in Geneva.)

My Dear Perron,—You ask me if I will contribute to the paper Egalite, which will be the organ of the Latin section of the International in Switzerland. You. can depend on me, my dear friend. I consider this society as the grandest and most healthful institution of our century, which will be destined to become the greatest power in Europe to reorganise social order by replacing present-day injustice with a reign of freedom, which, whilst excluding nobody from their rights, will become really beneficial for all, because it will be built up on the equality and solidarity of all; on equality and solidarity in labour and in the distribution of the fruits of this labour; in education, in the physical, moral and intellectual, personal, political and social development of men; and likewise in all noble and human enjoyments of life, which until now have been exclusively reserved for the privileged classes.

This grand Union of the workers of Europe and America has been in existence only four years, and it already carries all the elements of that justice and general peace which the bourgeois congresses long for but never find, for this one simple reason: the bourgeoisie is a part of society which has been worn out and made sick by history; and like so many dotards, who, owing to their impotence, think of Utopias, it dreams to-day of the unification of opposing forces, and wants the ends without the means. The bourgeoisie's wish is nothing else than the platonic worship of Justice, but only on the condition that the inherent privileges of the historic evil shall continue to exist. They are thirsting for peace, but at the same time they want to preserve the existing political States, because these States protect them against the thousandfold just demands of the masses. Thirty centuries of history were not sufficient to prove to them that the political State means continual war without, and permanent oppression and exploitation within.

But we can leave these poor dotards to their impotent dreams and ridiculous Utopias. The present belongs to the bourgeoisie, the future is for the workers. Let us think of the great preparation for the coming day.

What is needed to bring about the final liberation of Labour? Two things, two inseparable conditions. The first is the true and practical solidarity of the workers of all countries. What power on earth can resist this gigantic combination? This must, therefore, be realised. All oppressed and exploited workers of the whole world must clasp hands across the artificial boundaries of the political States, and thus destroy these boundaries; they must unite for the common cause in the single thought of justice and solidarity of interests; all for each, and each for all. For the last time the world must split itself into two camps, into two parties; on one side, Labour to equal conditions for all, the liberty of each through the equality of all, the conquering Justice and Humanity—the revolution; on the other side, privilege, monopoly, dominion, oppression, and exploitation.

The second condition,inseparable from the first, is knowledge. Not the bourgeois knowledge, adulterated, metaphysical, legal, political, economical, pedantic and dogmatic, which is taught at your universities; but the true, human knowledge, founded on the positive perception of the facts of nature, history, and society, and guided by nothing else but reason and sound common-sense. Knowledge is power. The workers, therefore, need solidarity and knowledge. To develop these two fundamental conditions of their victory, is not this the main object of the organ founded by the Latin sections of Switzerland? It is the duty of every one to help in this work, and I will be proud and happy to give what assistance I can.

It is especially a question the discussion of which seems to me very important. You know that these poor bourgeois, driven by the inevitable trend of conditions, and making necessity a virtue, are becoming Socialists to-day—i.e., they are trying to dilute Socialism, as they have diluted so many good things to their profit. For a long time they opposed the word "Socialism," and I can tell a tale of this. It took me a whole winter, nay, a whole year, to explain the word "Socialism" to the Central Committee of the bourgeois "Peace and Liberty League." Now they say they understand it. I put this miracle not to the credit of my poor eloquence, but to the eloquence of facts, which have spoken stronger than I. The strikes of Ghent and of Charleroi, the defeat of the German bourgeois democracy in the great Convention at Vienna, the Congresses at Hamburg and Nuremberg, and especially that at Brussels, have tamed their dogmatic and obstinate senses. Deaf and blind from class interest, as a result of their social position, and from heredity, to-day they are beginning to hear and see. They have at last grasped that the coming of .Socialism is to-day an inevitable fact, that it is the fate of the century in which we live. And this is the reason -why they have become Socialists.

But how did they become Socialists? They have invented for themselves a Socialism of their own—verily, a very cunning one, which has as its object to secure to the bourgeois class all the privileges of the present order of society, and to secure to the workers—a continuation of their misery. It would be a waste of time to speak about it, had not these new bourgeois Socialists, using the privileges of their social position and wealth (naturally much more powerful than ours), as well as the organisation of their combination and the protection of the authorities, started a crusade in order to mislead the consciousness of Labour organisations, especially in Germany.

We must fight them, and if the Committee of Egalite allows me, I will devote several articles to the purpose of explaining the gigantic difference which exists between true Socialism and the ridiculous Socialism of the bourgeoisie.— (Egalite, Dec. 19, 1868).

  • Michael Bakunin, “Bourgeois Socialism,” Freedom 29, no. 310 (February 1915): 11.

  Freedom. February, 1915. 11.