On the Social Upheaval (1870)
Le Beveil du Peuple for September and October, 1870,
published an important summary of an article by Michael Bakunin
on the question of the social upheaval. Bakunin denounces all
forms of reformist activity as being inimical to the emancipation
of the working class, and proceeds to attack': these who advocate
a more political revolution, brought about according to the constitutional
forms of capitalist society, and through the medium of its, parliamentary
machine, in opposition to a direct social revolutionary change
effected by the workers through the medium of their own political
Bakunin argues that the fact that wages practically never rise
above the bare level of subsistence renders it impossible for
the workers to secure increased well-being under bourgeois society.
With the progress of capitalist civilization, the gulf between
the two classes gapes wider and wider.
It follows from this, also, that in the most democratic and
free centuries, such as England, Belgium, Switzerland, and the
U. S. A., the freedom and political rights which the workers enjoy
ostensibly are merely fictitious. They, who are slaves to their
masters in the social sense are slaves also in the political sense.
They have neither the education, nor the leisure, nor the independence
which are so absolutely necessary for the free and thoughtful
exercise of their rights of citizenship. In the most democratic
countries, these in which there is universal suffrage, they have
one day of mastery, or rather of Saturnalia, Election day. Once
this day, the bourgeoisie, their daily oppressors and exploiters,
come before them, hat in hand and talk of equality, brotherhood,
and call them a sovereign people, whose very humble servants and
representatives they wish to be. Once this day is passed, fraternity
and equality disperse like smoke; the bourgeoisie become once
more the bourgeoisie; and the proletariat, the sovereign people,
continuo in their slavery. This is why the system of representative
democracy is so much applauded by the radical bourgeoisie, even
when in a popular direction, it is improved, completed, and developed
through the referendum and the direct legislation of the people,
in which form it is so strenuously advocated by a certain school
of Germans, who strongly call themselves Socialists.
For, so long as the people remain slaves economically, they
will also remain slaves politically, express their sentiments
as such, and subordinate themselves to the bourgeoisie, who rely
upon the continuance of the vote system for the preservation of
Does that mean that we revolutionary Socialists are opposed
to universal suffrage, and prefer limited suffrage or the despotism
of an individual ? By no means. What we assert is, that, universal
suffrage in itself, based as it on economic and social inequality,
will never be for the people anything but a bait, and that from
the side of democratic bourgeoisedom, it will never be ought but
a shameful lie, the surest implement for strengthening, with a
make-believe of liberalism and justice, the eternal domination
of the exploiting and owing classes, and so suppressing the freedom
and interests of the people.
"Consequently we deny that the universal franchise in
itself is a means in the hands of the people for the achievement
of economic and social equality."
"On this ground we assort that the so-called Social, Democrats,
who, in these countries, whore universal suffrage does not exist
yet, exert themselves to persuade the people that they must achieve
this before all else-as today the leaders of the Social Democratic
Party are doing when they tell the people that political freedom
is a necessary condition to the attainment of economic freedom--are
themselves either the victims of a fatal error or they are charlatans.
Do they really not know, or do they pretend not to know, that
this preceding political freedom i.e., that which necessarily
exists without economic and social equality, since it should have
to precede these two fundamental equalities, will be essentially
bourgeois freedom, i.e.,founded on the economic dependence of
the people, and consequently incapable of brining forth its opposition,
the economic and social, and creating such economic freedom as
leads to the exclusive freedom of only the bourgeoisie?"
"Are these peculiar Social Democrats victims to a fallacy
or are they betrayers? That is a very delicate question, which
I prefer not to examine toe closely. To me it is certain, that
there are no worse enemies of the people than these who try to
turn them away from the social upheaval, the only change that
can give them real freedom, justice, and well being in order to
draw them again into the treacherous path of reforms, or of revolutions
of an exclusively political character whose tool, victim and deputy
the social democracy always has been."
Bakunin then precedes to point out that the social upheaval
does not exclude the political one. It only means that the political
institutions shall alter neither before nor after, but together
with the economic institutions.
"The political upheaval, simultaneously with and really
inseparable from the social upheaval, whose negative expression
or negative manifestation it will, so to speak, be, will no longer
be a reformation, but a grandiose liquidation."
"The people are instinctively mistrustful of every government.
when you promise them nice things, they say:--'You talk so because
you are not yet at the rudder.' A letter from John Bright to his
electors, when he became minister, says:--'The voters should not
expect him to act according to what he used to say: it is somewhat
different speaking in opposition and different acting as a minister.'
Similarly spoke a member of the International, a very honest Socialist,
when in September, 1870, he became the perfect of a very republican
minded department. He 'retains his old views, but now he is compelled
to act in opposition to them."
Bakunin assorts that both are quite right. Therefore it does
not avail to change the personnel of the government. He proceeds
to treat of the inevitable corruption that follows from authority,
and insists that everyone who attains to power must succumb to
such corruption since he must serve and conserve ruling-class
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