One Legacy of Bakunin, Part I: The Only Self-Justifying Government, Research Time, 20/08/2014

I finished reading the collection of Mikhail Bakunin essays that I had been working on for the last while yesterday, and the chapters excerpted from his unfinished book Statism and Anarchy were remarkably insightful for both his own time and ours. The immediate discussion of the book was his critique of the pan-Slavist movement that was gaining popularity in the last years of his life, the 1870s, but his concepts apply to all utopian anarchist thinking.

Again, this has turned out to be essential for my Utopias book. As of now, the basic structure has a rough sketch: the materialist utopianism that would overcome humanity’s weaknesses to create a totally mechanistic man receives an antidote in the Spinoza-Bergson-Deleuze-dynamism tradition of scientific metaphysics, and the socio-political manifestation of this scientific tradition is an anarchist mode of organizing ourselves. 

One thing that impressed me was how some of the anarchist political philosophy that I’ve read that dated more than a century after his death are essentially just catching up to Bakunin. This March, I read a monograph by Robert Paul Wolff from the 1970s, an argument for why anarchism is the only democratically legitimate form of government. He spends 80 pages arguing against the conceptions of the methods of how a representative assembly secures democratic legitimacy to act on behalf of its voters, ultimately concluding that such representative legitimacy is impossible.

Bakunin explains this in a single paragraph, then uses this notion as a premise in a much larger argument against his contemporary enemies, the authoritarian communist movement of Karl Marx that had just taken over the First International from anarchist leadership at their Hague conference in 1872. Marx’s communism as a revolutionary political movement had the essential goal to wrest control of the state from the current ruling classes and invest it in the intellectual proletarians and scientists who would manage society and the economy through a comprehensive dictatorship. 

I don't have Stalinist Russia in mind here, a case more of
pure totalitarianism than elite rule. Better examples of
Marxist states that replaced an old elite with an elite of
Communist Party bureaucrats are the petty states of the
Eastern bloc, like Czechoslovakia.
In this, the ideas of Antonio Gramsci and Alain Badiou surpassed Marx, at least as a revolutionary political activist: to seize state power would simply recast you as a new elite, and all you will have done is destroy an old elite so you could replace them yourself as the new oppressors of the masses. A revolution worth being called such would actually reorganize society so that the state itself did not have to exist. The ideological uniformity that Marx instituted throughout the First International after the Hague conference is another symptom. The state, just like the networks of the First International under Marx’s control, is a means to enforce uniformity of thought, word, and action. All the different models of the state government only truly differ in terms of what the moral and political values of the elite are and how that elite justifies its rule. This would have been true under a Marxist state, as indeed it was.

The anarchist idea is that people and communities should have the power to develop their own frameworks of thought in a dynamic relationship to their local conditions. All these diverse localities would work together in voluntary associations for larger political, social, economic, and ecological goals in common. 

The question for an anarchist political movement is how you manage to make this total revolution in all of a society’s ideas about how to organize itself actually happen. To be continued . . . 

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