Bakunin, Mikhail

Bakunin, Mikhail
   Mikhail Bakunin was a Russian intellectual known for his political philosophy of anarchism. The eldest son of a wealthy Russian landowner, Bakunin was fluent in French, educated in the standard subjects and the classic works of European literature, and, as a young man, attended the Artillery Cadet School in St. Petersburg. He first began to read the German philosophers seriously in 1833–1834 and by 1835 had joined an intellectual circle in Moscow named for its head Nikolai Stankevich. Here Bakunin found his place. Steeped in the writings of the German philosophers such as Johann Fichte and G.W.F. Hegel, he began to formulate his own philosophy. He believed that to achieve inner harmony one had to abandon the old self, reject materialism, and live a life of self-denial. Complete freedom could be achieved only through complete destruction of the current repressive regime; there was no utility in gradual change within the system. He did not promote an individualistic rebellion against society; on the contrary, he had a strong faith in humanity’s innate collectivism. His anarchism was based on a sharp opposition between “society” and “state,” the state being an alien power that, tied to the institution of private property, killed the natural social instincts in humans. Bakunin became a recognized leader of the anarchist movement and the main antagonist of Karl Marx in the First International. His emphasis on the Russian peasantry as the source of all revolutionary energy came in direct conflict with Marx’s focus on the industrial working class. Moreover, he criticized Marx’s theories as proposing yet another form of tyranny, that of the educated over the uneducated workers. Bakunin’s theories were very influential; his belief in the revolutionary instincts of the peasant inspired the great “go to the people” movement in Russia in 1874.
   See also <>; <>.
    Carr, Edward Hallett. Michael Bakunin. New York: Vintage Books, 1975;
    Joll, James. The Anarchists. 2nd ed. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1980;
    Kelly, Aileen. Mikhail Bakunin: A Study in the Psychology and Politics of Utopianism. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1987.

Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800–1914. 2014.

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