Mikhail Bakunin 1869
On the Policy of the International Workingmen's Association
First Published: in L'Égalité, August 7, 14, 21 and 28 1869;
Source: Bakunin on Anarchy, translated and edited by Sam Dolgoff, 1971.
The Policy of the International consists of four articles written by Bakunin for L'Égalité, the organ of the French-speaking libertarian Romance Federation of the International, August 7-28, 1869. It is written in the popular style suitable for the intelligent workers of the period.
Bakunin begins by outlining in simple language the main principles of the International and then goes on to discuss the nature of the bourgeoisie and its relationship to the International, to parliamentarianism, and to immediate problems. His astute remarks about working-class politicians, bourgeoisified workers, and the bourgeoisie in general are still cogent. Bakunin’s practical proposals show how well he understood the mind of the average worker.
Bakunin’s references to “the June days” and “the December days” require some elucidation. The revolution Of 1848 began with the uprising of the Parisian workers on February 24. When the government fell, King Louis Philippe abdicated and fled to England. The Second Republic was then declared. When the National Workshops program for the unemployed (similar to the WPA program of Franklin Roosevelt) collapsed, a new uprising of hundreds of thousands of starving Parisian workers was crushed by General Cavaignac, who had been invested with dictatorial powers by the republican National Assembly. This slaughter, which took place between the .22nd and the 24th of June, became known as “the June days.” “The December days” signify the accession to power of Louis Napoleon (later to become Emperor Napoleon III). In the national plebiscite of December 10, he was elected president of France with the support of the peasants and other reactionary classes. He banished or imprisoned the radicals as well as the liberal democrats and the republican opposition, and established “the reign of Caesarism and militarism” referred to by Bakunin.
L’Égalité, August 7, 1869;
THE International, in accepting a new member, does not ask him whether he is an atheist or a believer, whether or not he belongs to any political party. It asks only this: are you a worker, or if not, do you sincerely desire and will you fully embrace the cause of the workers to the exclusion of all causes contrary to its principles?
Do you feel that the workers, the sole producers of all the world’s wealth, who have created civilization and won all the liberties the bourgeoisie enjoy, should be themselves condemned to poverty, ignorance and servitude? Do you understand that the principal source of all the evils the workers must now endure is poverty, and that this poverty, the lot of all the workers in the world, is the necessary consequence of the existing economic order of society, and primarily of the submission of labor to the yoke of capital, i.e., to the bourgeoisie?
Do you understand that there is an irreconcilable antagonism between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie which is the necessary consequence of their respective economic positions? That the wealth of the bourgeois class is incompatible with the well-being and freedom of the workers, because this excessive wealth can be founded only upon the exploitation and subjugation of labor, and that for this reason, the prosperity and dignity of the working masses demands the abolition of the bourgeoisie as a class ... Do you understand that no worker, however intelligent or energetic, can fight all by himself against the well-organized power of the bourgeoisie, a power sustained by all states?
Do you understand that faced with the formidable coalition of all the privileged classes, all the capitalists, and all the states, an isolated workers’ association, local or national, even in one of the greatest European nations, can never triumph, and that faced with this coalition, victory can only be achieved by a union of all the national and international associations into a single universal association which is none other than the great International Workingmen’s Association?
If you thoroughly understand and truly want all this, then irrespective of your national loyalties and religious beliefs, come to us and you will be welcomed. But you must first pledge:
a. to subordinate your personal and family interests as well as your political and religious beliefs to the supreme interests of our association: to the struggle of labor against capital, i.e., the economic struggle of the workers against the bourgeoisie.
b. never to compromise with the bourgeoisie for your personal gain.
c. never to satisfy your vanity by displaying your disdain for the rank and file. If you do so, you will be treated as a bourgeois, an enemy of the proletariat, for the bourgeois shuns the collectivity, and the proletarian seeks only the solidarity of all who work and are exploited by capitalism.
d. to remain always faithful to the solidarity of labor. The least betrayal of this solidarity will be considered by the International as the greatest crime that any worker could commit; in short, you must fully and without reservation accept our general statutes and pledge yourself to conform to them in all the acts of your life.
We think that the founders of the International showed great wisdom in eliminating all religious and national questions from its program. They purposely refrained from injecting their very definite antireligious and national convictions into the program because their main concern was to unite the oppressed and the exploited workers of the civilized world in one common effort. They had necessarily to find a common basis, and formulate a set of elementary principles acceptable to all workers regardless of the political and economic aberrations still infecting the minds of so many toilers.
The inclusion of the antireligious and political program of any group or party in the program of the International, far from uniting the European workers, would have divided them even more than they are at present.... Taking advantage of the ignorance of the workers, the priests, the governments, and all the bourgeois parties, including the most leftwing of them, have succeeded in indoctrinating the workers with all sorts of false ideas whose sole purpose was to brainwash them into voluntarily serving the privileged classes against their own best interests.
Besides, the difference in the degree of industrial, political, and moral development of the working masses in the different countries is still too great for them to unite on the basis of one political and antireligious program. To make such a program an absolute condition for membership would be to establish a sect and not to organize a universal association. It could only destroy the International at the outset.
There is yet another important reason for eliminating all political tendencies, at least formally and only formally. Until now there has never been a true politics of the people, and by the “people” we mean the lowly classes, the “rabble,” the poorest workers whose toil sustains the world. There has been only the politics of the privileged classes, those who have used the physical prowess of the people to overthrow and replace each other in the never-ending struggle for supremacy. The people have shifted support from one side to the other in the vain hope that in at least one of these political changes ... their century-old poverty and slavery would be lightened. Even the great French Revolution did not basically alter their status. It did away with the nobility only to replace it with the bourgeoisie. The people are no longer called serfs. They are proclaimed free men , legally entitled to all the rights of free-born citizens; but they remain poverty-stricken serfs in fact.
And they will remain enslaved as long as the working masses continue to serve as tools of bourgeois politics, whether conservative or liberal, even if those politics pretend to he revolutionary. For all bourgeois politics whatever the label or color have only one purpose: to perpetuate domination by the bourgeoisie, and bourgeois domination is the slavery of the proletariat.
What was the International to do? It had to separate the working masses from all bourgeois politics and expunge from its program the political programs of the bourgeoisie. When the International was first organized, the only institutions exerting major pressure were the church, the monarchy, the aristocracy, and the bourgeoisie. The latter, particularly the liberal bourgeoisie, were undoubtedly more humane than the others, but they too depended upon the exploitation of the masses, and their sole purpose was also to fight their rivals for the privilege of monopolizing the exploitation. The International had first to clear the ground. Since all politics, as far as the emancipation is concerned, is infected with reactionary elements, the International had first to purge itself of all political systems, and then build upon the ruins of the bourgeois social order the new politics of the International.
L’Égalité, August 14, 1869;
IT was for these reasons that the founders of the International based the organization only on the economic struggle of the workers against capitalist exploitation. They reasoned that once the workers, drawing confidence from the justice of their cause as well as from their numerical superiority, become involved with their fellow workers in their common struggle against the employing class, the force of events and the intensification of the struggle will soon impel them to recognize all the political, socialist, and philosophical principles of the International, principles which aye in fact only the true reflection of their own experiences and aspirations.
From the political and social angle, the necessary consequences of these principles are the abolition of all territorial states and the erection upon their ruins of the great international confederation of all national and productive groups. Philosophically it means nothing less than the realization of human felicity, equality, liberty, and justice. And these ideals will tend to render superfluous all religious phantasies and vain dreams of a better life in heaven. ...
But to proclaim these two ultimate aims prematurely to ignorant workers whose minds are poisoned by the demoralizing doctrines and propaganda of the State and the priesthood would surely shock and repel them.... They would not even suspect that these aims are actually the truest expression of their own interests, that the pursuit of these objectives will lead to the realization of their most cherished yearnings, and that precisely those religious and political prejudices in whose name they spurn these ideas are perhaps the direct cause of their prolonged poverty and slavery.
It is necessary to clearly distinguish the prejudices of the privileged classes. The prejudices of the masses ...militate against their own interests, while those of the bourgeoisie are based precisely on their class interests.... The people want, but do not know. The bourgeoisie know, but do not want. Of the two, which is incurable? ‘ne bourgeoisie, of course.
General rule: you can convince only those who already feel the need for change by virtue of their instincts and their miserable circumstances, but never those who feel no need for change. Nor can you convince those who may desire to escape from an intolerable situation, but are attracted to ideas totally at variance with yours, owing to the nature of their social, intellectual, and moral habits.
You cannot win over to socialism a money-mad noble or a bourgeois whose sole ambition is to climb into the nobility, or a worker who is heart and soul bent on becoming a bourgeois. Nor can you win over an intellectual snob, or a self-styled “savant” vaunting his scientific knowledge after half-digesting a few books. Such people seethe with contempt and arrogance toward the unlettered masses, and imagine themselves ordained to form a new dominant caste.
No amount of reasoning or agitation will succeed in converting these moral unfortunates. The only effective way to overcome their resistance is through action: to close off the avenues for privileged positions, exploitation, and domination. Only the Social Revolution, sweeping away all inequality, can moralize them and bring them to seek their happiness in equality and in solidarity.
Things are different with serious workers. And by serious workers, I mean those who are crushed under the burden of toil; all those whose position is so precarious that they can never (barring extraordinary circumstances) even hope to attain a better station in life.... Also in this category are those rare and generous workers who, though they have the opportunity to raise themselves out of the working class, prefer nevertheless to suffer and struggle with their brother workers against the bourgeoisie. Such workers do not have to be converted; they are already true socialists.
The great mass of workers, exhausted by daily drudgery, are miserable and ignorant. Yet this mass, despite its political and social prejudices, is socialistic without knowing it. Because of its social position, it is more truly socialist than all the scientific and bourgeois socialists combined. It is socialistic by virtue of the material conditions and the needs of its being, while the latter are only intellectually socialist. In real life, the material needs exert a much greater power than the needs of the intellect, which are always and everywhere the expression of the being, the reflection of the successive developments of life, but never its vital principle ...
What the workers lack is not a sense of reality or socialist aspirations but only socialist thought. Deep in his heart, every worker aspires to a full life, to material well-being and intellectual development, based on justice or equality for every human being longing to live and work in an atmosphere of freedom. Obviously this ideal cannot be realized under the present social system, based as it is on the cynical exploitation of the toiling masses. Since his emancipation can be attained only by the overthrow of the existing social order, every earnest worker is potentially a revolutionary socialist.
The seeds of socialist thought Are subconsciously planted in the mind of every serious worker. The socialist aim is to make the worker fully conscious of what he wants, to awaken in him an intelligence which will correspond to his inner yearnings. Once the intelligence of the workers is raised to the level of what they instinctively feel, their will is bound to be concentrated and their power irresistible. It is axiomatic that ignorance and religious and political prejudices ... slow up the development of this intelligence among the working masses. How to dissipate this ignorance? How to root out these prejudices? By education? By propaganda?
Propaganda and education are excellent but insufficient means. The isolated worker weighed down by toil and daily cares cannot attend to his education. And who will make this propaganda? Will it be a handful of socialists but lately emerged from their bourgeois environment? They are undoubtedly dedicated and motivated by generous impulses, but far too few in number to adequately propagandize the masses.
Besides, the workers will receive guardedly at best the propaganda of intellectuals who come from a totally different and hostile social background. The preamble of the statutes of the International states: “The emancipation of the workers is the task of the workers themselves.” It is absolutely right. This is the fundamental principle of our great association. But the workers know little about theory and are unable to grasp the implications of this principle. ‘ne only way for the workers to learn theory is through practice: emancipation through practical action. It requires the full solidarity of the workers in their struggle against their bosses, through the trade unions and the building up of resistance [strike funds].
L’Égalité, August 21, 1869;
IF the International from its inception tolerated the reactionary political and religious ideas of the workers who joined it, it was not because it was by any means indifferent toward these ideas. As I have already demonstrated, it could not be indifferent, because all reactionary ideas entertained by the membership undermine the basic principle and with it the very existence of the International itself.
The founders of the International, I repeat, acted wisely in adopting this tolerant policy. They reasoned ... that a worker involving himself in the struggle will necessarily be led to realize that there is an unbridled antagonism between the ... reaction and his most cherished aspirations ... and having realized this, will openly declare himself a revolutionary socialist.
This is not the case with the bourgeoisie. All their interests are contrary to the economic transformation of society. And if their ideas are also contrary to it they are reactionaries, or to use a term much more in vogue today, “moderates”; they will always remain reactionaries and it is necessary to keep them out of the International. A worker can recognize the bourgeois who sincerely seeks membership in the International by the relations he keeps up with the bourgeois world. The great majority of the bourgeois capitalists and landed proprietors, those who have the courage to come out openly and manifest their abhorrence of the labor movement are, at least, resolute and sincere enemies and less dangerous for the International than the hypocrites.
But there is another category of bourgeois socialist who is not so frank or courageous. Enemies of social liquidation (the abolition of authoritarian exploitative institutions), they, like all reactionary bourgeois, defend the institutions responsible for the slavery of the proletariat and still pose as the apostles for the emancipation of the working class.
The radical and liberal bourgeois socialists who founded the League for Peace and Freedom [see selection] belong to this category. In its first year, 1867, the League rejected socialism with horror. Last year, 1868, at the Bern Congress, they again overwhelmingly rejected economic equality. Now, in 1869, seeing that the League is about to expire and wishing to stave off death a little longer, they finally realize that they must deal with the social problem. They now call themselves “socialists,” but they are bourgeois socialists because they would resolve all social questions on the basis of social equality. They want to preserve interest on capital and land rents and still call for the emancipation of the workers.
What impels them to undertake so hopeless and ridiculous a task? Most of the bourgeoisie are tired of the reign of Caesarism and militarism, which they themselves. out of fear of the proletariat, helped to initiate in the 1848 revolution.
You need only recall the June days, precursors of the December days, when this National Assembly, with one voice, cursed the illustrious and heroic socialist Proudhon, the only one who had the courage to defy and expose this rabid herd of bourgeois conservatives, liberals, and radicals; nor should you now forget that among his traducers were a number of citizens still living, and today more militant than ever, who received their revolutionary baptism during the persecutions of the December days, and many who have since become martyrs to liberty. But notwithstanding these honorable exceptions, the whole bourgeoisie, including the radical bourgeois, have themselves created the very Caesarism and militarism whose effects they now deplore. After having used these elements against the proletariat, they now want to get rid of them. Why? Because the regime has humiliated them and encroached upon their interests. But how can they free themselves? Then, they were brave and powerful enough to challenge them. Now, they are cowardly, senile, and impotent.
Help can come only from the proletariat. But how can they be won over? By promises of liberty and equality? These promises will no longer move the workers. They have learned by bitter experience that these fine-sounding words mean only the perpetuation of an economic slavery no less hard than before. To touch the heart of these millions of wage slaves, you must speak to them about economic emancipation. There is no worker who today does not understand that economic freedom is the basis for all his other freedoms. This being the case, the bourgeois must now speak to the workers about the economic reform of society.
The bourgeois members of the League for Peace and Freedom say to themselves:
Very well, we must also call ourselves socialists. We must promise the workers social and economic reforms, always on the condition that they respect the civilization and the omnipotence of the bourgeoisie, private and hereditary property, interest on capital and on landed-property, and all the rest of it. We must find some way to convince them that only under these conditions will our domination be assured and (strange as it may seem) the workers be emancipated. We will even convince them that to realize all these social and economic reforms, it is above all necessary to make a good political revolution, exclusively political, as red as they could possibly wish, if necessary even with a great chopping-off of heads, but always with scrupulous respect for the sanctity of property; an entirely Jacobin revolution; in short ... we will make ourselves the masters of the situation and then grant the workers what we think they are entitled to.
There is an infallible sign by which workers can recognize a phoney socialist, a bourgeois socialist; if he says that the political must precede the social and economic transformation; if he denies that both must be made at the same time, or shrugs his shoulders when told that the political revolution will be meaningful only when it begins with a full, immediate and direct social liquidation....
L’Égalité, August 28, 1869;
IF the International is to remain true to its principles, it cannot deviate from the only road that can lead it to victory; it must above all counteract the influence of two kinds of bourgeois socialists: the advocates of bourgeois politics, including the revolutionary bourgeois, and the “practical men” with their bourgeois cooperation. The politics of the International is summed up in these words from our preamble:
... that the submission of labor to capital is the source of a political moral and material servitude, and that for this reason the economic emancipation of the workers is the great objective to which every political movement must be subordinated....
It is clear that every political movement whose objective is not the immediate, direct, definitive, and complete economic emancipation of the workers, and which does not clearly and unmistakably proclaim the principle of economic equality, i.e., restitution of capital to labor or social liquidation – that every such political movement is a bourgeois movement and must therefore be excluded from the International. The politics of the bourgeois democrats and the bourgeois socialists is based on the idea that political liberty is the preliminary condition for economic emancipation. These words can have only one meaning. ... The workers must ally themselves with the radical bourgeois to first make the political revolution; and then, later, fight against their former allies to make the economic revolution.
We emphatically repudiate this disastrous theory which will once again make the workers the instrument of their own enslavement and submit themselves anew to the exploitation of the bourgeoisie. To conquer political liberty first can mean only that the social and economic relations will at least “temporarily” remain untouched. In short, the capitalists keep their wealth and the workers their poverty.
We will be told that once political liberty is won, it will much later serve the workers as the instrument to win equality and economic justice. Freedom is, of course, a magnificent and powerful force, provided the workers will have the opportunity to make use of it and provided that it is effectively in their possession. But if not, this political freedom will as always remain a transparent fraud, a fiction. One must live in a dream world to imagine that a worker, under the prevailing economic and social conditions, can really and effectively exercise political liberty. He lacks both the time and the material means to do so.
What did we see in France the day after the 1848 revolution, from the political point of view the most radical revolution that can be desired? The French workers were certainly neither indifferent nor unintelligent, yet though they had universal suffrage they left everything to the bourgeois politicians. Why? Because they lacked the material means necessary to make political liberty a reality; ... while the bourgeois radicals and liberals, including the conservatives, the newly minted republicans of the day before yesterday, and other such converts, connived and schemed – the one thanks to income from property or their lucrative positions, the other thanks to their state positions in which they naturally remained and in which they entrenched themselves more solidly than ever...
Let us suppose that the workers, made wiser by experience, instead of electing the bourgeois to constituent or legislative assemblies will send simple workers from their own ranks. Do you know what will happen? The new worker deputies, transplanted into a bourgeois environment, living and soaking up all the bourgeois ideas and acquiring their habits, will cease being workers and statesmen and become converted into bourgeois, even more bourgeois-like than the bourgeois themselves. Because men do not make positions; positions, contrariwise, make men. And we know from experience that worker bourgeois are no less egotistic than exploiter bourgeois, no less disastrous for the International than the bourgeois socialists, no less vain and ridiculous than bourgeois who become nobles...
To urge workers to win political liberty without first dealing with the burning question of socialism , without pronouncing the phrase that makes the bourgeoisie tremble – social liquidation – is simply to say: “Conquer political liberty for us, so that we can use it against you later on.”
just as the bourgeois socialists strive to organize a formidable campaign among the workers to win political liberty, using socialism as the bait to hook them; so must the working masses, fully aware of their position, clarified and guided by the principles of the International, begin to organize themselves effectively and constitute a true power, not national, but international, to replace the policy of the bourgeoisie with their own policy; and just as the bourgeoisie need a revolution to institute their own ideal of full political liberty under republican institutions, and no revolution can succeed without the people ... it is necessary that the workers’ movement cease pulling chestnuts out of the fire for the benefit of the bourgeois gentlemen and make that revolution serve only for the triumph of the people, for the cause of all who toil against the exploiters of labor.
True to its principles, the International Workingmen’s Association will never endorse or support any political agitation which does not aim at the immediate, direct, and complete economic emancipation of the workers, the abolition of the bourgeoisie as a class economically separate from the great mass of the people. The International will not support any revolution which from the very first day does not inscribe upon its banner ... social liquidation.
But revolutions are not improvised or made arbitrarily, neither by individuals nor by the most powerful associations. Independent of all will and of all conspiracies, they are always brought about by the natural force of events. They can be foreseen, their imminence can sometimes be sensed, but their explosion can never be artificially accelerated. Convinced of this truth, we ask, “What policy should the International pursue during this more or less extended interval separating us from the overwhelming Social Revolution which everyone awaits?”
Ignoring all local and national politics, the International endeavors to imbue the labor agitation of all lands wit an exclusively economic character. To achieve its immediate aim – reduction of working hours and higher wages – it prepares for strikes, sets up strike funds, and tries to unite the workers into one organization.
[Let us enlarge our association. But at the same time, let us not forget to consolidate and reinforce it so that our solidarity, which is our whole power, grows stronger from day to day. Let us have more of this solidarity in study, in our work, in civic action, in life itself. Let us cooperate in our common enterprise to make our lives a little more supportable and less difficult. Let us, whenever possible, establish producer-consumer cooperatives and mutual credit societies which, though under the present economic conditions they cannot in any real or adequate way free us, are nevertheless important inasmuch as they train the workers in the practice of managing the economy and plant the precious seeds for the organization of the future.]
The International will continue to propagandize its principles, because these principles, being the purest expression of the collective interests of the workers of the whole world, are the soul and living, dynamic power of our association. It will spread its propaganda without regard for the susceptibilities of the bourgeoisie, so that every worker, emerging from the intellectual and moral torpor in which he has been kept, will understand his situation and know what he wants and what to do, and under what conditions he can obtain his rights as a man. The International will have to conduct its propaganda even more energetically, because within the International itself we encounter influences which express disdain for these principles. deprecating them as empty, useless theory and trying to mislead the workers into returning to the economic and religious catechism of the bourgeoisie.
The International will expand and organize itself strongly; so that when the Revolution, ripened by the force of events, breaks out, there will be a real force ready which knows what to do and is therefore capable of guiding the revolution in the direction marked out by the aspirations of the people: a serious international organization of workers’ associations of all lands, capable of replacing this departing world of states.
We conclude this faithful exposition of the policy of the International, by quoting the concluding paragraph from the preamble to our general statutes:
The movement brought into being among the industrialized countries of Europe, in giving rise to new hopes, gives a solemn warning not to fall again into old errors.
Bakunin on the Revolutionary Labor Movement
Bakunin’s Revolutionary Catechism of 1866 and other works written before he joined the International in 1868, did not deal with the specific problems of the industrial proletariat. In 1864, when the International was founded, the labor movement was in its infancy, and in Italy, where Bakunin lived until 1867, it hardly existed. Twenty-six of the sixty-four delegates to the Lausanne Congress of the International attended the first Geneva Congress of the League for Peace and Freedom which was in session shortly after the Congress of the International adjourned. It was then that Bakunin became acquainted with the most active members of the International and became aware of its revolutionary potential. Bakunin’s entry into the International marked a turning point in his revolutionary career and in the history of the modern anarchist movement. He applied the ideas formulated in the Revolutionary Catechism and in “Federalism, Socialism, Anti-Theologism” to the problems facing the European proletariat.
The revolutionary syndicalist labor movements which flourished in a number of European countries, in Central and South America, to some extent in the United States, and in Spain during the Spanish Civil War (1936-9) derived their orientation from the libertarian sections of the International. Professor Paul Brissenden illustrates this point by a quotation from the IWW organ Industrial Worker of June 18, 1910:
We must trace the origins of the ideas of modern revolutionary unionism to the International.... Many ideas originally drafted for the International by the famous anarchist Michael Bakunin in 1868 were similar to the twentieth-century slogans of the IWW.
Scattered statements by Bakunin that the workers are “socialist by instinct ... .. socialists without knowing it,” implying that the workers automatically become revolutionists as they unite in their struggle against their employers for immediate economic improvements, do not accurately reflect his views on these points. Such exaggerated assertions were made to propagandize unsophisticated workers or made in the heat of argument against bourgeois class-collaborationists or Marxists who advocated parliamentary political action. All the evidence indicates that what Bakunin really meant was that the economic situation of the workers only renders them receptive to socialist revolutionary ideas. “The theoretical propagandizing of socialist ideas,” he says, “is also necessary to prepare the masses for the Social Revolution.” These ideas must be planted by a specific organization of conscious, dedicated revolutionists unified by a common ideological program, in this case by Bakunin’s “Alliance.” Bakunin defined the relationship between the International and the Alliance as follows:
The Alliance is the necessary complement to the International. But the International and the Alliance, while having the same ultimate aims, perform different functions. The International endeavors to unify the working masses, the millions of workers, regardless of nationality and national boundaries or religious and political beliefs, into one compact body; the Alliance, on the other hand, tries to give these masses a really revolutionary direction. The programs of one and the other, without being in any way opposed, differ only in the degree of their revolutionary development. The International contains in germ, but only in germ, the whole program of the Alliance. The program of the Alliance represents the fullest unfolding of the International.
There is a good deal of confusion about whether Bakunin and the anti-authoritarian members of the International were “collectivists” or what has been variously called “anti-authoritarian communists,” “federalist communists,” or “communist-anarchists.” This question is clarified by James Guillaume in a hitherto unpublished letter dated August 24, 1909. A copy of this letter was lately sent to the editor of the present volume from Montevideo, Uruguay, by the anarchist historian Vladimir Munoz. We translate the following excerpts:
At first [1868 Congress of the International] the term “collectivists” designated the partisans of collective property: all those who, in opposition to the partisans of individual property, declared that mines, land, communications and transportation, machines, etc., should be collectively owned.... at the Basel Congress (1869) the partisans of collective ownership split into two opposing factions. Those who advocated ownership of collective property by the State were called “state” or “authoritarian communists.” Those who advocated ownership of collective property directly by the workers’ associations were called “anti-authoritarian communists” or “communist federalists” or “communist anarchists.” To distinguish themselves from the authoritarians and avoid confusion, the anti-authoritarians called themselves “collectivists Varlin, the editor of the projected anarchist paper La Marseillaise, wrote me in December 1869 that: “The principles espoused in this journal will he the same as those adopted almost unanimously by the delegates to the Basel congress of the International held a few months ago: collectivism or non-authoritarian communism.” The year before, at the 1868 Congress of the League for Peace and Freedom, Bakunin called himself a “collectivist” and stated: “I want society and collective or social property to be organized from the bottom up by way of free association, and not from the top down by means of any authority whatsoever. In this sense I am a collectivist!'
As to the distribution of the products of collective labor, I wrote: “...Once the worker owns the instruments of labor, all the rest is of secondary importance. How the products of collective labor will be equitably shared must be left to the judgment of each group.” ...The collectivists knew very well that when the instruments of production are common property, labor becomes a social act and therefore the products are social products. In 1871 Bakunin wrote: “Only collective labor creates wealth. Collective wealth must be collectively owned.” ...In my essay “On Building the New Social Order” I stated clearly that in the collectivist society, when machines will triple production, goods will not be sold to consumers but distributed according to their needs.... These, and many other quotations that I could easily supply, show clearly that the collectivist Internationalists never accepted the theory of “to each according to the product of his labor.”
Guillaume saw no difference in principle between collectivism and anti-State communism. The collectivists understood that full communism would not be immediately realizable. They were convinced that the workers themselves would gradually introduce communism as they overcame the obstacles, both psychological and economic.
From: Bakunin on Anarchy, Sam Dolgoff, 1971.