Mikhail Bakunin
By: Mark Kingwell | Categories: Activism, Cusper, HiLo Heroes

Bakunin

By his own admission, the favourite book of anarchist thinker MIKHAIL ALEXANDROVICH BAKUNIN (1814–76) was J.G. Fichte’s 1806 popular mystical tract, The Way Towards the Blessed Life, which Bakunin translated into Russian during an juvenile academic sojourn in Germany. This is perhaps not as odd as it seems. This dedicated revolutionary, early friend of Marx and Proudhon, taker to the barricades, political prisoner and exile was, above all, a philosopher. His youthful interest in Kantian transcendentalism led, perhaps inevitably, to the thought of Hegel, Schelling, and Fichte. He would break with Marx over the role of the state, but the two are rooted in the same political reaction to German Idealist thought: it must be made concrete in direct action! Bakunin just barely survived the crackdowns that followed the various attempted insurrections of 1848, enduring exile and brutal incarceration. He joined the First International in 1868, but was combative and divisive in a manner that will be familiar to every left-wing organizer since. Fichtean mysticism aside, he remained a dedicated critic of organized religion: in his much-translated book God and the State (written 1871; published 1882), Bakunin wrote that “the idea of God implies the abdication of human reason and justice; it is the most decisive negation of human liberty, and necessarily ends in the enslavement of mankind, in theory and practice.” His anarcho-syndicalist ideas have been revived by generations of later thinkers and political actors, from Emma Goldman and the Wobblies to Noam Chomsky and the on-the-street activists of Seattle and Occupy. “The passion for destruction is a creative passion,” Bakunin had written in an early pamphlet, when he still dreamed of being a university professor. His own unevenly blessed life was the acting out of that urgent wisdom.

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MORE ACTIVISTS: Mother Jones | Alexander Berkman | Eugene V. Debs | Big Bill Haywood | Lucy Stone | Antônio Conselheiro | Emmeline Pankhurst | Félix Fénéon | Zo d’Axa | Mikhail Bakunin | Voltairine de Cleyre | Emma Goldman | Will Allen | Rosa Luxemburg | Émile Henry | Pancho Villa | Joe Hill | Margaret Sanger | Aldo Leopold | Screaming Lord Sutch | Nestor Makhno | Dorothy Day | Garry Kasparov | Adriano Olivetti | Mildred Harnack | George Orwell | Bayard Rustin | Abbie Hoffman | Ti-Grace Atkinson | Gloria Steinem | Rudolf Rocker | Stokely Carmichael | Angela Davis

On his or her birthday, HiLobrow irregularly pays tribute to one of our high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes. Also born this date: Cee-Lo Green, Countee Cullen, Randolph Bourne, Mel Blanc, Howard Hawks, Agnès Varda, Roberto Calasso.

READ MORE about men and women born on the cusp between the Autotelic (1805–14) and Retrogressivist (1815–24) Generations.

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Mark Kingwell is a professor of philosophy at the University of Toronto.