Posts Tagged ‘‘Mikhail Bakunin: From out of the Dustin: Bakunin’s Basic Writings 1869-1871’’

Bakunin on the Sociological Origins of Crime

December 28, 2018

Here’s another passage from the anarchist Bakunin that’s still very relevant today, in Tory-run Britain. Bakunin was strongly impressed by sociology, and believed, like the French philosophes of the Enlightenment, that humanity and society were governed by laws. So strong was this belief, that he rejected free will completely. I very much reject this philosophical stance, along with his atheism and denial of divine providence, which he claimed made science impossible.

Humans do have free will and not just meat machines, running according to a set of biological or sociological imperatives, and while sociology is a powerful tool for investigating the basis of society and suggesting solutions to social problems, it’s very different from the natural sciences based on experiment and prediction. People are still responsible for their actions. Nevertheless, sociological influences are a powerful cause of crime. Bakunin discusses this in his piece ‘All Round Education’, quoting the stastician Lambert Queteler on the sociological origins of crime, which he believed were completely responsible for its incidence. Bakunin writes

A science of statistics is possible only because of this natural and social inevitability. This science is not satisfied with ascertaining and enumerating social facts but looks for their links to and correlation with the organization of society. Criminal statistics show, for example, that in a given country, in a given town, over a period of ten, twenty, thirty or more years, the same crime or misdemeanor occurs every year in the same proportion [to the total], if the fabric of society has not been altered by political and social crises. Even more remarkably, a given modus operandi recurs from year to year in the same proportion, for example, the number of poisonings, knifings, and shootings, as well as the number of suicides committed one way or another, are almost always the same. This led the famous Belgian statistician Quetelet to utter the following memorable words: ‘Society prepares the crimes while individuals merely carry them out.’

In Robert E. Cutler, Mikhail Bakunin: From Out of the Dustbin: Bakunin’s Basic Writings 1869-1871 (Ann Arbor: Ardis 1985), p. 122.

Now I can remember one of the postgraduate archaeological students at Bristol University making much the same point as Bakunin in a talk she gave explaining her research into the physical structure of one of Bristol’s historic hospitals. She said that the total number of prison and mental hospitals tends to remain the same, although the proportions of people going to one or the other changes. She went on to discuss the beneficial effects of natural light and contact with the natural world in healing hospital patients and reforming criminals. Despite pressures from government across the political spectrum to cut costs in the prison service and abolish them, prison farms have remained because of their demonstrably strong influence in reforming convicts.

At present, Britain is suffering a very high incidence of crime and suicide. The media has reported the shocking number of knife crimes in the capital. There has been a rise in hate crime, not just against ethnic minorities, including Muslims, but also against the disabled. Suicides have also increased, and as Mike, Stilloaks, Tom Pride and so many other left-wing and disability rights bloggers have pointed out, these have included disabled people, who were left in misery and starvation due to being thrown off their benefits. Several left notes explicitly stating that they were ending their lives due to sanctions by DWP, or being judged ‘fit for work’ under the Work Capability Tests.

Predictably, the Tories have held up their hands and claimed that there is no absolutely no link between their shabby, degrading and vicious welfare policies and the tragic deaths of these people.

This is a lie. The anti-immigration rhetoric and stance of many of the leaders of the ‘Leave’ campaign, and anti-EU parties and organisations like UKIP has led to an increase in racist hate crime. And the Tories are also responsible for stoking this hostility through their campaigns to get illegal immigrants to turn themselves, their attempt to deport the Windrush generation, despite the fact that they had a perfect right to stay in Britain, and the racist and islamophobic comments of many of their members. Like Boris Johnson and his wretch article describing women wearing the niqub as looking like dustbins and letterboxes. Only a tiny minority of Muslim women wear it, and many pro-Muslim political figures, like George Galloway are opposed to it. But Galloway also believed that women had a right to wear it, and condemned Johnson’s comments as racist. He was also bitterly critical of Johnson’s remarks along with many other people, including Mike on his blog, because after Johnson made them attacks on women wearing the burka increased. At least woman was killed. Despite this, the Tories concluded that BoJo’s article wasn’t racist, but ‘tolerant’ and ‘respectful’.

There have also been vicious attacks on the homeless and the disabled, again due to Tory policies and the rabid right-wing press, which demonizes the poor and the unemployed as scroungers and the disabled as malingerers. Thanks to rags like the Scum and the Heil, people believe that a quarter of all benefit claims are fraudulent, while the reality is that fake claims account for less than 1 one per cent of them.

The crime figures, and particularly the increase in hate crimes, clearly shows that the Tories have had a disastrous effect on British society, making it more suspicious, hateful and violent. Individuals are still responsible for the crimes they commit, but Quetelet’s and Bakunin’s views are correct. Society is a powerful influence in the amount of crime and suicide.

And the conclusion is undeniable: the Tories have prepared these crimes by deliberately creating a society where they are carried out, however much they scream and try to deny it. They have to be got out, before they cause any more attacks and deaths of the poorest and most vulnerable in our society.

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Bakunin’s Advocacy of Worker Co-operatives

December 28, 2018

The Russian anarchist Mikhail Bakunin had a strange, contradictory attitude towards co-operatives. In his article ‘On Co-operation’, Bakunin argued that they could actually harm the workers’ movement. He was highly critical of those founded on what he considered to be bourgeois principles for two reasons. Firstly, they could collapse, leaving the workers involved demoralized and poorer than before. And secondly, if they were successful, they elevated a small group of workers to the bourgeoisie while other workers, what he called a fifth estate, were exploited by them. At the same time, he passionately supported co-operatives as a means of empowering the workers and as the beginning of the future socialist society he looked forward to.

In his article ‘Geneva’s Double Strike’ he wrote

Let us organize and enlarge our Association, but at the same time let us not forget to consolidate it so that our solidarity, which is our whole power, may become daily more real. Let us build our solidarity in study, in labour, in public action, and in life. Let us become partners in common ventures to make our life together more bearable and less difficult. Let us form as many cooperatives for consumption, mutual credit, and production as we can, everywhere, for though they may be unable to emancipate us in earnest under present economic conditions, they prepare the precious seedes for the organization of the future and through them the workers become accustomed to organizing their own affairs.

In Robert M. Cutler, ed. and trans., Mikhail Bakunin: From Out of the Dustbin: Bakunin’s Basic Writings 1869-1871 (Ann Arbor: Ardis 1985), p. 148.

And after laying out his criticisms of ‘bourgeois’ cooperatives and their advocates in ‘On Cooperation’, Bakunin then turns to promoting them. He wrote

We want cooperation too. We are even convinced that the cooperative will be the preponderant form of social organization in the future, in every branch of labour and science. But at the same time, we know that it will prosper, developing itself fully and freely, embracing all human industry, only when it is based on equality, when all capital and every instrument of labour, including the soil, belong to the people by right of collective property. Therefore before all else, we consider this demand, the organization of the international strength of the workers of all countries, to be the principal goal of our great International [Working-Men’s] Association.

Once this is acknowledged, we hardly oppose the creation of cooperative associations; we find them necessary in many respects. First, and this appears to us even to be their principal benefit at present, they accustom the workers to organize, pursue and manage their interests themselves, without any interference either by bourgeois capital or by bourgeois control.

It is desirable that when the hour of social liquidation is at hand, it should find many cooperative associations in every country and locality; if they are well organized and above all founded on the principles of solidarity and collectivity rather than on bourgeois exclusivism, then society will pass from its present situation to one of equality and justice without too many great upheavals.

Cutler, Mikhail Bakunin, p. 150.

I don’t believe in a radical transformation of society like Bakunin, who was an ardent revolutionary. But I would like more cooperatives to be founded, and this to become, with various other forms of industrial democracy, the dominant form of industrial organization. Working people should be able to organize and empower themselves so that they can resist the power of big business and Conservatism, which has stripped them of rights at work and even the promise of secure, well-paid jobs. There is a problem in that cooperatives can be less economical than capitalist enterprises, but the success of the Mondragon cooperatives in Spain shows that this is not necessarily the case. And cooperatives and industrial democracy, if done properly, will empower the workers and help break down the current class system and the increasingly oligarchical nature of business and politics.

Socialism and Equality in the Programme of the International Workingmen’s Association

December 27, 2018

Last week I put up a piece arguing that one of the main differences between genuine socialism and Nazism and Fascism, which at times included socialist elements or affected socialistic postures, is that Socialism also demanded equality. Karl Kautsky in his writings stated that socialists supported the working class as the way to equality and the classless society. If this could be done better without socialism, then the latter would have to be discarded. Article 6 of the Preamble to the General Rules of the International Workingmen’s Association, agreed at the Geneva congress in 1866, explicitly included racial, national and religious equality. Bakunin gives the rules in the Preamble in his piece on ‘The Organisation of the International’ in Mikhail Bakunin: From Out of the Dustbin: Bakunin’s Basic Writings 1869-1871, Robert M. Cutler, ed. and trans. (Ann Arbor: Ardis 1985), pp. 137-44. They were

1. The emancipation of Labour should be the work of the labourers themselves;
2. The efforts of the workers to emancipate themselves should lend themselves to the establishment not of new privileges but of equal rights and equal obligations for everyone, and to the abolition of all class domination;
3. The economic subjection of the worker to the monopolizers of primatery materials and of the instruments of labour is the origin of all forms of slavery: social poverty, mental degradation, and political submission.
4. For this reason, the economic emancipation of the working classes is the great goal to which every political movement should be subordinated as a simple means;
5. The emancipation of the workers is not a simply local or national problem; on the contrary, this problem is of interest to all civilized nations depending for its solution upon their theoretical and practical circumstances;
6. The Association and all its members recognize that Truth, Justice, and Morality must be the basis of their conduct toward all men, without regard to colour, creed or nationality;
7. Finally the Association considers itself obliged to demand human and civil rights not only for its members but also for whoever fulfills his obligations; “No obligations without rights, no rights without obligations”.

Pp. 142-3, my emphasis.

I realise that there are exception to this rule. The Fabians were fully behind British imperialism and the Boer War, and Marx and Engels had deeply unpleasant views about how certain nations – the Celts and the Slavs – were reactionary and due to disappear from history. And I think its probably fair to say that it has only been after the great social changes in the 1960s that feminism and anti-racism have been more than the concern of a few intellectuals both within the Labour movement in Britain and outside it.

But nevertheless, the I.W.M.A’s programme does show a commitment to social equality was present in the working class movement from very early on, a commitment that continues to inspire and motivate socialists and working people today striving for a better world. A world without Fascism, which will try to take on some of its aspects in order to suppress real socialism.

Bakunin: Democracy without Economic Equality Is Worthless

December 27, 2018

More anarchism now, this time from the Russian anarchist, Mikhail Bakunin. Bakunin violently criticized and rejected democracy because he passionately believed and argued that without economic equality for the workers, it would simply preserve the power of the exploiting classes, including the bourgeoisie, the owners of capital and industry. These would continue legislating for themselves against the workers.

Bakunin wrote

The child endowed with the greatest talents, but born into a poor family, a family of workers living from day to day on their hard labour, is doomed to an ignorance which, instead of developing his own natural talents, kills them all: he will become the worker, the unskilled labourer, forced to be the bourgeoisie’s man-servant and field-worker. The child of bourgeois parents, on the other hand, the child of the rich, however, stupid by nature, will receive both the upbringing and the education necessary to develop his scanty talents as much as possible. He will become the exploiter of labour, the master, the property-owner, the legislator, the governor-a gentleman. However stupid he may be, he will make laws on behalf of the people and against them, and he will rule over the popular masses.

In a democratic state, it will be said, the people will choose only the good men. But how will they recognize them? They have neither the education necessary for judging the good and the bad, nor the spare time necessary for learning the differences among those who run for election. These men, moreover, live in a society different from their own; they doff their hat to Their Majesty the sovereign people only at election-time, and once elected they turn their backs. Moreover, however excellent they may be as members of their family and their society, they will always be bad for the people, because, belonging to the privileged and exploiting class, they will quite naturally wish to preserve those privileges which constitute the very basis of their social existence and condemn the people to eternal slavery.

But why haven’t the people been sending men of their own, men of the people, to the legislative assemblies and the government? First, because men of the people, who have to live by their physical labour, do not have the time to devote themselves exclusively to politics. [Second, b]eing unable to do so, being more often ignorant of the political and economic questions which are discussed in these lofty regions, they will nearly always be the dupes of lawyers and bourgeois politicians. Also, [third] it is usually enough for these men of the people to enter the government for them to become members of the bourgeoisie in their turn, sometimes hating and scorning the people from whom they came more than do the natural-born members of the bourgeoisie.

So you see that political equality, even in the most democratic states, is an illusion. It is the same with juridical equality, equality before the law. The bourgeoisie make the law for themselves, and they practice it against the people. The State, and the law which expresses it, exist only to perpetuate the slavery of the people for the benefit of the bourgeoisie.

Moreover, you know, if you wish to file suit when you find your interests, your honour, or your rights wronged, you must first prove that you are able to pay the costs, that is, that you can lay aside an impossible sum; and if you cannot do so, they you cannot file the suit. But do the people, the majority of the workers, have the resources to put on deposit in a court of law? Most of the time, no. Hence the rich man will be able to attack you and insult you with impunity. There is no justice at all for the people.

Political equality will be an illusion so long as economic and social equality do not exist, so long as any minority can become rich, property-owning, and capitalist through inheritance. Do you know the true definitions of hereditary property? It is the hereditary ability to exploit the collective labour of the people and to enslave the masses.

In Robert M. Cutler, Mikhail Bakunin: From Out of the Dustbin: Bakunin’s Basic Writings 1869-71 (Ann Arbor: Ardis 1985) pp. 50-1.

Bakunin’s stance is extreme, obviously, and the educational opportunities open to working people has changed immensely since the late 19th century when he wrote this. The school leaving age in Britain has gradually been extended until it’s 18, and nearly half of all school leavers now go on to university to obtain degrees. But nevertheless, his criticism still remains valid.

The majority of politicians and members of parliament come from the middle and upper classes. There was a book published a few years ago that estimated that 75 per cent of MPs have senior management positions or sit on the boards of companies, so that the majority of them are millionaires. As a result, legislation passed by them has benefited industry at the expense of working people, so that the rich are getting much richer, and the poor poorer. They have attacked employees’ rights at work, introduced the gig economy, which has trapped people in insecure, irregularly paid work without benefits like annual leave, sick pay or maternity leave. At the same time the benefits system has been attacked to create a demoralized, cowed workforce ready to accept any job than starve without state support, due to benefit sanctions and delays in payment. And then there’s the infamous workfare, which is nothing less than the abuse of the benefits system to supply industry and particularly the big supermarkets with subsidized cheap labour for exploitation.

This situation has partly come about because New Labour abandoned economic justice for working people and took over the Neoliberal policies of Margaret Thatcher. The result was that even when the Tories were ousted with the 1997 election, elements of Thatcherism continued under Blair and Brown. And the Neocons have admitted that while they were in favour of exporting democracy to Iraq, they wanted that new freedom to be strictly limited so that only parties promoting free trade and economic individualism would be elected.

In the US the situation has got worse. Due to political sponsorship and donations from big business, politicians in congress notoriously do not represent their constituents but their corporate donors. Only 19-25 per cent of American voters feel the government works for them, and a study by Harvard University concluded that the country was not so much a democracy as a corporate oligarchy.

Democracy would thus benefit the ruling classes, and provide the illusion of freedom for everyone else.

This has to be reversed. Corporate money and power has to be taken out of politics and ordinary working men and women put in, with an agenda to empower this country’s ordinary people instead of reassuring lies, like the Tories.

It’s why we need Corbyn in government, and the Tories, Lib-Dems and New Labour out.

Bakunin on Class Oppression, Poverty and Suicide

December 23, 2018

Mikhail Bakunin was one of the towering figures of 19th century anarchism. A Russian aristocrat, he rebelled against tsarism after becoming a member of literary circle studying Hegelian philosophy, and threw himself passionately behind the worker’s struggle. He took part in many worker’s uprisings, and was captured when one of them, in eastern Germany, was put down. He was then sent back in chains to Russia, where he was goaled and exiled to Siberia. He escaped, took a ship to Japan, from whence he sailed to America. And from America he crossed the Atlantic to England, to call in at the home of his fellow Russian expatriate and anarchist, Peter Kropotkin. Although he is notorious for advocating violent revolution, particularly in a pamphlet he wrote with Nechaev, in some of his other writings he seems to believe that the revolution, which will overthrow capitalism, the state and the bourgeoisie, which will essentially peaceful. In one of his writings from the period 1869-1871 he argues for such a situation, and states that if there is violence, it will only be because the bourgeoisie want there to be.

He was bitterly critical of poverty that capitalism and the class structure of society and the state had created. And some of his descriptions of this poverty, and the despair and misery it caused, are still relevant today under Tweezer and the Tories. I found this passage in Mikhail Bakunin, From Out of the Dustbin, Bakunin’s Basic Writings 1869-1871, ed. and trans. by Robert M. Cutler (Ann Arbor: Ardis 1985):

This wealth, concentrated in an ever smaller number of hands and sloughing off the lower strata of the middle class, the petite bourgeoisie, into the proletariat, is wholly exclusive and becomes more so every day, growing in direct proportion to the increasing poverty of the working masses. Fro9m this it follows that the abyss which already divides the wealthy and privileged minority from the millions of workers whose physical labour supports them, is always widening, and that the wealthier the exploiters of the people’s labour get, the poorer the workers get. Simply juxtapose the extraordinary affluence of the great aristocratic, financial, commercial and industrial world of England to the wretched predicament of the workers of that country. Simply read once more the unpretentious, heartrending letter recently written by an intelligent, honest London goldsmith, Walter Dugan, who voluntarily poisoned himself, his wife, and his six children just to escape the humiliations, the poverty, and the tortures of hunger. You will have to acknowledge that from the material standpoint this vaunted civilization means only oppression and ruination to the people. (p. 112).

Dugan’s killing of himself and his children is truly horrific, and is probably better described as a murder-suicide, the type of crime that unfortunately appears every so often on the news. But as various left-wing bloggers like Stilloaks, Pride’s Purge and Mike over at Vox Political have shown, all too many people have died through misery and starvation due to the Tories’ destruction of the economy and the welfare state. Thousands of disabled people have been thrown off the benefits they need due to the Tories’ and New Labour’s fitness to work tests, and thousands of the unemployed have been left without money due to benefit sanctions. Thousands of people have died in starvation and misery, and some, like Dugan, have committed suicide. We have a quarter of a million people using food banks to save themselves from starvation. Something like 549 homeless people have died this year, including a Hungarian man, Gyula Remes, who died outside the House of Parliament. Mr. Remes had a job, but it didn’t pay enough for him to be able to afford accommodation. Meanwhile, Chris Skidmore, the Tory MP from Kingswood in Bristol, who said that austerity couldn’t be too bad because people weren’t lying dead in the street, has said nothing. Probably because he doesn’t want to remind even more people about his wretched comment, and can’t think of anything to say that wouldn’t put him deeper into trouble.

He’s only one of the Tories, who’ve made vile, sneering comments about the truly poor and desperate. I can remember another Tory a few years ago rhetorically asking who the homeless were, and replying that they were the people you stepped over coming out of the opera. And there are many others like him.

You don’t have to be an anarchist to want these people out of office. You just have to want a better Britain for working people, one that will give them proper rights at work, a living wage, a decent welfare system and a renationalized NHS and utilities industries that will safeguard and treat their health, and supply them with water, electricity and transport on the railways at proper prices, rather than exploiting them for the profit of private industry.

Get Tweezer and her profiteers out, and Jeremy Corbyn in!

Bakunin on Workers’ Suicide to Escape Poverty and Hunger

April 30, 2016

I read this passage from the great Russian Anarchist revolutionary, Mikhail Bakunin, and thought of the victims of the DWP’s sanctions regime, who have taken their own lives.

From this it follows that the abyss which already divides the wealthy and privileged minority from the millions of workers whose physical labour supports them, is always widening, an that the wealthier the exploiters of the people’s labour get, the poorer the workers get. Simply juxtapose the extraordinary affluence of the great aristocratic, financial, commercial and industrial world of England to the wretched predicament of the workers of that country. Simply read once more the unpretentious, heartrending letter recently written by an intelligent, honest London goldsmith, Walter Dugan, who voluntarily poisoned himself, his wife and his six children just to escape the humiliations, the poverty, and the tortures of hunger. You will have to acknowledge that from the material standpoint this vaunted civilisation means only oppression and ruination to the people.

Mikhail Bakunin: From out of the Dusbin: Bakunin’s Basic Writings 1869-1871, ed. and trans. by Robert M. Cutler (Ann Arbor: Ardis Publications 1985) 112.

I’m not a big fan of Bakunin. He’s a fascinating figure, who was absolutely dedicated to the Anarchist cause and fought in many of the great workers’ uprisings of the 19th century. He even surprised one of his Anarchist comrades in London – I think it might have been Kropotkin – by turning up on his doorstep after the Russian government had exiled him in Siberia. He’d escaped, got on a boat to Japan, and from then went to America and thence to England. One of the other revolutionaries said of him, ‘On the first day of the Revolution, he is a perfect treasure. On the second day he ought to be shot!’ Bakunin in many ways represents the purely destructive side of Anarchism. With Nechaev he produced a book that gloried in bloodshed and chaos, and some historians have wondered why he did so. He’s notorious for his statement that ‘Even destruction can become a creative act’.

But you can’t read that section without thinking of the 590 people, who have died from poverty thanks to DWP sanctions, some of whom have taken their own lives, like Walter Dugan, in sheer despair. And this is at a time when Britain is supposedly becoming richer, thanks to Neo-Lib economics. Mostly, we’re undoubtedly better fed, better educated and wealthier than our forebears in the 19th century. But poverty, real, grinding poverty, is returning. And while I don’t support Bakunin’s anarchism, his remarks on capitalism as the cause still remain fundamentally acute. Or at least in so far as it describes the capitalism of the Neo-Libs, Cameron, Osborne and the Blairites in Labour.