28 June 2005

Preconditions for a Social Revolution in Russia

Ways and means to make the Social Revolution can be of two sorts: one purely revolutionary and leading directly to the organization of a general uprising of the people; the other, more peaceful, way leads to the emancipation of the people by a gradual, systematic, but at the same time radical transformation of the conditions of existence ... it is the formation of associations of craftsmen and consumers and, above all, producers’ cooperatives, because they lead more directly to the emancipation of labor from the domination of capitalism... The experience of the last twenty years in different lands has shown conclusively that this is impossible.

For the last several years the question of cooperative associations has stirred lively debates in the International; based on numerous arguments, the International has come to the following conclusions, formulated at the Congress of Lausanne (1868) and adopted at the Congress of Brussels (1868).

The various forms of cooperation are incontestably one of the most equitable and rational ways of organizing the future system of production. But before it can realize its aim of emancipating the laboring masses so that they will receive the full product of their labor, the land and all forms of capital must he converted into collective property. As long as this is not accomplished, the cooperatives will be overwhelmed by the all-powerful competition of monopoly capital and vast landed property; ... and even in the unlikely event that a small group of cooperatives should somehow surmount the competition, their success would only beget a new class of prosperous cooperators in the midst of a poverty-stricken mass of proletarians. While cooperatives cannot achieve the emancipation of the laboring masses under the present socioeconomic conditions, it nevertheless has this advantage, that cooperation can habituate the workers to organize themselves to conduct their own affairs (after the overthrow of the old society) ...

The Russian people possess to a great extent two qualities which are in our opinion indispensable preconditions for the Social Revolution ... Their sufferings are infinite, but they do not patiently resign themselves to their misery and they react with an intense savage despair which twice in history produced such popular explosions as the revolts of Stenka Razin and Pugachev, and which even today expresses itself in continuous peasant outbreaks.

What then prevents them from making a successful revolution? It is the absence of a conscious common ideal capable of inspiring a genuine popular revolution... . [Fortunately,] there is no need for a profound analysis of the historic conscience of our people in order to define the fundamental traits which characterize the ideal of our people.

The first of these traits is the conviction, held by all the people, that the land rightfully belongs to them. The second trait is the belief that the right to benefit from the soil belongs not to an individual but to the rural community as a whole, to the Mir which assigns the temporary use of the land to the members of the community. The third trait is that even the minimal limitations placed by the State on the Mir’s autonomy arouse hostility on the part of the latter toward the State.

Nevertheless, the ideal of the Russian people is overshadowed by three other traits which denature and retard the realization of this ideal; traits which we must combat with all our energy... . These three traits are: 1) paternalism, 2) the absorption of the individual by the Mir, 3) confidence in the Tsar... . The last two, absorption of the individual by the Mir and the cult of the Tsar, are the natural and inevitable effects of the first, i.e., the paternalism ruling the people. This is a great historic evil, the worst of all...

This evil deforms all Russian life, and indeed paralyzes it, with its crass family sluggishness, the chronic lying, the avid hypocrisy, and finally, the servility which renders life insupportable. The despotism of the husband, of the father, of the eldest brother over the family (already an immoral institution by virtue of its juridical-economic inequalities), the school of violence and triumphant bestiality, of the cowardice and the daily perversions of the family home. The expression “whitewashed graveyard” is a good description of the Russian family...

[The family patriarch] is simultaneously a slave and a despot: a despot exerting his tyranny over all those under his roof and dependent on his will. The only masters he recognizes are the Mir and the Tsar. If he is the head of the family, he will behave like an absolute despot, but he will be the servant of the Mir and the slave of the Tsar. The rural community is his universe; there is only his family and on a higher level the clan. This explains why the patriarchal principle dominates the Mir, an odious tyranny, a cowardly submission, and the absolute negation of all individual and family rights. The decisions of the Mir, however arbitrary, are law. “Who would dare defy the Mir!” exclaims the muzhik. But there are among the Russian people personages who have the courage to defy the Mir — the brigands. This is the reason brigandage is an important historical phenomenon in Russia; the first rebels, the first revolutionists in Russia, Pugachev and Stenka Razin, were brigands...

One of the greatest misfortunes in Russia is that each community constitutes a closed circle. No community finds it necessary to have the least organic connection with other communities. They are linked by the intermediary of the Tsar, the “little father,” and only by the supreme patriarchal power vested in him. It is clear that disunion paralyzes the people, condemns its almost always local revolts to certain defeat and at the same time consolidates the victory of despotism. Therefore, one of the main tasks of revolutionary youth is to establish at all costs and by every possible means a vital line of revolt between the isolated rural communities. This is a difficult, but by no means impossible, task.

The Russian rural community, already sufficiently weakened by patriarchalism, is hopelessly corrupted and crushed by the State. Under its yoke the communal elections are a mockery, and the persons elected by the people become the tools of the oppressors and the venal servants of the rich landlords. In such circumstances the last vestiges of justice, of truth, and of elemental humanity vanish from the rural community, ruined by the authorities. More than ever brigandage becomes the only way out for the individual, and a mass uprising — the revolution for the populace.

Amid the general confusion of ideas, two diametrically opposed trends emerge. The first, of a more pacific character, inclines toward gradual action; the other, favoring insurrectionary movements, tends directly to prepare the people for revolutionary warfare. The partisans of the first trend do not believe that the revolution is really possible; but as they do not want to remain passive spectators of the misfortunes of the people, they are determined to go to the people, like brothers, suffer with them and at the same time teach and prepare them for action, not theoretically but practically, by example. They will go among the factory workers, and toiling side by side with them awaken in them the desire to organize.

Others try to found rural colonies where all will enjoy the land in common ... in accordance with the principle that the product of collective labor shall be distributed on the basis of “from each according to his ability; to each according to his need.” The same hope inspired Cabet, who, after the defeat of the 1848 revolution, left with his Icarians for America where he founded the colony of New Icaria, whose existence was brief. If this kind of experiment could not last very long in America, where the chances of success were much greater ... it follows that it could never succeed in Russia.

But this does not discourage those who want to prepare the people for peaceful social change. By organizing their own domestic life on the basis of full liberty, they hope to combat the shameful patriarchal regime... By their example they hope to imbue the people with practical ideas of justice, of liberty, and of the means of emancipating themselves... All these plans are very fine, extremely magnanimous and noble, but are they realizable? It will be only a drop in the ocean ... never sufficient to emancipate our people.

The other tendency is to fight, to revolt. We are confident that this alone will bring satisfactory results. Our people have shown that they need encouragement. Their situation is so desperate that they find themselves ready to revolt in every village. Every revolt, even if it fails, still has its value, yet isolated actions are insufficient. There must be a general uprising embracing the whole countryside. That this is possible has been demonstrated by the vast popular movements led by Stenka Razin and Pugachev.

The struggle against the patriarchal regime is at present raging in almost every village and in every family. In the rural community, the Mir has degenerated to the point where it has become an instrument of the State. The power and the arbitrary bureaucratic will of the State is hated by the people and the revolt against this power and this arbitrary will is at the same time a revolt against the despotism of the rural community and of the Mir.

But this is not all. The principal evil which paralyzes the Russian people, and has up till now made a general uprising impossible, is the closed rural community, its isolation and disunity. We must at all costs breach these hitherto impregnable communities and weld them together by the active current of thought, by the will, and by the revolutionary cause. We must contact and connect not only the most enlightened peasants in the villages, the districts, and the regions but also the most forward-looking revolutionary individuals naturally emerging from the rural Russian environment; and above all, wherever possible, we must establish the same vital connections between the factory workers and the peasants. These connections can be only between individuals. The most advanced and active peasants in each village, district, and region must be put in contact with like-minded peasants in other villages, districts, and regions, though obviously this must be done with extreme caution.

Above all, we must convince these advanced elements, and through them all, or at least the majority of, the most energetic people, that ... all over Russia and outside its frontiers there exists a common evil and a common cause. We must convince the people that they are an invincible force ... and that if this force has not yet freed the people, it is only because they have not acted in unison to achieve a common aim... In order to achieve unity, the villages, districts, and regions must establish contact and organize according to an agreed and unified plan... We must convince our peasant and our worker that they are not alone, that on the contrary there stand behind them, weighed down by the same yoke but animated by the same enthusiasm, the innumerable mass of proletarians all over the world who are also preparing a universal uprising... . Such is the main task of revolutionary propaganda. How this objective should be concretized by our youth will be discussed on another occasion. We may say here only that the Russian people will accept the revolutionary intellectual youth only if they share their life, their poverty, their cause, and their desperate revolt.

Henceforth this youth must be present not as witnesses but as active participants in the front ranks of action and in all popular movements, great or small, anytime, anywhere, and anyplace. The young revolutionist must act according to a plan rigorously and effectively conceived and accept strict discipline in all his acts in order to create that unanimity without which victory is impossible... He must never under any circumstances lie to the people. This would not only be criminal, but also most disastrous for the revolutionary cause... . The individual is most eloquent when he defends a cause that he sincerely believes in and when he speaks according to his most cherished convictions... . If we try to emancipate the people by lies we will mislead not only them but ourselves as well, deviating from and losing sight of our true objective.

A word in conclusion: The class that we call our “intellectual proletariat,” which in Russia is already in a social-revolutionary situation, i.e., in an impossible and desperate situation, must now be imbued with revolutionary ideas and the passion for the Social Revolution. If the intellectual proletariat does not want to surrender they face certain ruin; they must join and help organize the popular revolution.

Bakunin, Mikhail. “Preconditions for a Social Revolution in Russia”. (1873), ISMS/Russian Revolution [core] Primary