Posts Tagged ‘Walter Dugan’

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!

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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.