Mikhail Bakunin's theory and practice

Image: Elyeser Szturm

By Eloisa Benvenutti de Andrade*

Commentary on Felipe Corrêa's book dedicated to the analysis of one of the founders of the anarchist movement.

In Felipe Corrêa's book, the work and life of the Russian revolutionary Mikhail Aleksandrovich Bakunin (1814-1876) are discussed through a rigorous analysis of Bakuninian political theory, produced between 1836 and 1876. Described by the author himself as an interdisciplinary study, the book presents the result both of a meticulous and unprecedented investigation in Portuguese of Bakunin's political-intellectual trajectory and of a sophisticated survey of his historical context.

In this endeavor carried out by Corrêa, it was a question of substantiating the relevance of Bakunin's contributions in the field of political theory, while highlighting the profound relationship between theoretical coherence and political practice, expressed by the Russian revolutionary in each of his three phases of life. life and thought. Bakunin is considered, along with Pyotr Kropotkin, one of the greatest anarchists in history (p. 17-18).

Along 604 pages, separated into thirteen chapters, divided, in turn, into three parts, and followed by a rich collection of bibliographical references and annexes, Felipe Corrêa elaborates a careful reflection from the treatment of books, letters, articles and Bakuninian discourses.

These texts together – among them, some unpublished in Portuguese – support Bakunin's interest in Hegelian philosophy; his involvement with the national liberation struggle of the Slavs and his connection with the International Association of Workers, to finally make a conclusive comment about his defense of anarchism.

In the text in question, it is evident the author's successful intention to delve into Bakunin's theoretical contributions, as a militant and intellectual, and the concern to place them historically, for a better understanding of his development and changes, as well as as its extreme importance for the constitution of contemporary political theory. Regarding the Bakuninian historicity evidenced in Corrêa's work, it is worth highlighting the beautiful cover illustration by Cristiano Suarez.

Due to his performance and training, it seems to have been possible for the author to elaborate this fruitful work that fulfills a double task: to discuss both the internal coherence of Bakunin's political theory and the coherence between this theory and his political practice.

In the book, Felipe Corrêa opposes a series of arguments usually supported by the official version of the anarchists, and by the traditional studies carried out on Bakunin, to substantiate the origin of his revolutionary conceptions and discard unjustifiable speculations.

The author is exhaustive about some of these most frequent chimeras: (1) “Bakunin was not conservative, reactionary, precursor of fascism, apostle of destruction and chaos, individualist and disciple of Stirner or Rousseau”; (2) “in his anarchist period, he was not idealistic, anti-organizational or pan-Slavist (in the sense of defending Slavism under the tsar's hegemony), nor can his ideas and actions be considered petty-bourgeois”; (3) “Bakunin and the Alliance never intended to disorganize or destroy the International”, and this “was neither a Jacobin organization nor (in anachronistic terms) a forerunner of Bolshevism, but a federalist cadre organization” (p. 361).

In the first period analyzed by Corrêa, specifically the years 1836-1843, the author notes a “rapid and constant evolution of Bakunin”, illustrated by the changes between 1837 and 1841 in his philosophical references and, above all in 1841, in his political references, concluding that there is coherence both in the philosophical interests elected as priorities by the Russian and in his reflections “which take as their theme the human interpretation of reality, the problems of man and the modern world, and the paths to change” (p. 559).

In the second period analyzed, between 1844 and 1863, the conclusion is that there is coherence in the priority that practice acquires over theory and philosophy, that is, in the philosophical framework that subsidizes both Bakuninian voluntarist realism and the thematic centrality of the issue. country for the period in question.

Corrêa's argument is that in the passage from the Russo-Polish cause to the Slavic cause and, consequently, the emerging modification of the political referential, "which complements French republican radicalism with Slavism, resulting in revolutionary Pan-Slavism", is evidenced more a development of Bakuninian thought and action than its contradictions, although these appear in some significant moments, namely, in Bakunin's defense, between 1851 and 1862, of the Jacobin model of political organization and in 1851 and 1860 “of dictatorship as post-revolutionary government model; in flirting with the Tsar and narrow-minded exclusivist nationalism in 1851 and 1860-1862; in the anti-German and even Germanophobic aspects of 1850-1851 and 1862” (p. 560).

In the third period (1864-1876), Corrêa finds consistency in Bakunin's philosophical defense of “scientific-naturalist materialism, in the materialist conciliation between theory and practice, in the treatment of the national question as part of the social question and in the thematic focus on the emancipation of workers ” (p. 560).

The researcher also defends the Bakuninian passage from socialism to anarchism, evidenced between the years 1864 and 1867, not as an element of contradiction, but as an expression of the enrichment of thought and revolutionary practice of the Russian militant and intellectual.

However, Corrêa stresses the existence of an important contradiction in the positive claim made by Bakunin to the term “dictatorship” in 1870, in the anti-Semitic positions enunciated by him “and, in some cases, anti-Germanic ones, which were exacerbated from 1869” (id .).

From now on, I will highlight some of the important points of analysis in the book.

about hegelianism

Throughout his research, Corrêa explains that Bakunin dedicated himself diligently to the study of Hegel's work and that this was his greatest theoretical-philosophical influence, guiding his thought and intellectual production, mainly between the years 1837 and 1842. period can be established as “Bakunin's Properly Hegelian, in which he is more concerned with issues of society and community, and passes from the influence of Fichte's subjective and ethical idealism to Hegel's objective idealism” (p. 87). ), establishing himself, in the meantime, as the greatest Hegelian in Russia.

This influence appears mainly with the idea of ​​“reconciliation with reality”, accompanied by Bakunin's harsh criticism of abstraction and philosophical subjectivism, which would privilege the interrelationship between theory and practice, allowing the reintegration of the individual into the social totality and offering conditions for rational action. This would be possible through education, awareness of objective reality and its concrete manifestations (p. 88-89).

Corrêa shows in his research that, between 1841 and 1843, Bakunin adopted French radicalism as a political-doctrinaire foundation as an expression of German idealism in the form of praxis, and, “at the same time, he took advantage of Hegelianism as a dialectical method, since he understands dialectics as a force driving force behind development and historical change” (p. 140). Through the ideas of conflict and progress, Bakunin emphasized the role that contradiction and negation play in bringing historical forms into a state of opposition to one another, conflicts that lead to higher stages of 'reconciliation'.

In this way, Bakunin would understand history as dialectic, which requires a dialectical method to encompass it, as proposed by Hegel.

the pan-Slavism

Corrêa explains that, since 1844, Bakunin has been concerned with revolutionary pan-Slavism, when he learned about the cause of Poland through the historian Joachim Lelewel (p. 20). From there, the Russian revolutionary goes on to defend the Russo-Polish cause, and then to the cause of the national liberation of the Slavs.

It was the ideas of a democratic Slavism with a revolutionary bent that led Bakunin to the question of the Polish national struggle and the Slavic cause, consistent with his democratic convictions. And this was, according to Corrêa, “the cause of the Poles, which would soon become the Russo-Polish cause and, finally, the cause of the Slavs”, the occasion of Bakunin’s first practical engagement and the conception of his revolutionary Pan-Slavism ( p. 199).

However, the researcher points out that, between the years 1844 and 1863, “it should be noted that Bakunin's Pan-Slavism was not just revolutionary; it is also anti-centralist, anti-imperialist, classist, democratic and federalist” (p. 286), and follows Bakunin's defense that freedom must be the path to freedom, and from this must be understood the defense of the need to build the autonomy of the Slavic people.

The author also demonstrates in his analyzes that this initial moment, in 1843 and 1844, ends, for Bakunin, the interest exclusively in philosophical questions and in theoretical reflections about the world and man, and opens “a new period of rupture with the philosophy, in which the national question (Russian-Polish and, later, Slavic) replaces the previous theme and subsidizes a concrete political practice” (p. 559).

Between 1863 and 1864, the period of rupture with philosophy and theory in general ended, as well as the focus on the national question, promoting the opening for a period “of materialist conciliation between theory and practice and in which the national question would be inserted within a broader framework, with the social issue and the emancipation of workers being prioritized” (p. 559).

For Corrêa, it is, finally, based on these ruptures “that one can speak of Bakunin's three great periods: the one in which he proceeds from philosophy to praxis (1836-1843), the one in which he sustains revolutionary Pan-Slavism (1844 -1863) and the one in him that proceeds from socialism to anarchism (1864-1876)” (p. 559).

In this way Corrêa argues that it is possible to identify “less drastic changes operated in Bakunin's political-philosophical thought. In philosophical terms, his shift from subjective to objective idealism in 1837; from this to voluntarist realism, in 1841; and from there to naturalistic-scientific materialism in 1864. In political terms, his shift from progressive romantic idealism to French republican radicalism in 1841; its complement with revolutionary Pan-Slavism in 1844; and the change from it to revolutionary socialism, in 1864, and finally to anarchism, in 1868” (p. 559)


On the issue of anarchism, Corrêa defends, together with Berthier, an important scholar of the subject, that Bakunin became an anarchist in 1868, and that Federalism, socialism and anti-theologism (1867-1868) is his passage to anarchism. In his book, the author claims that it is a methodological mistake to claim that anarchism is a Bakuninian creation and that everything produced by Bakunin is considered anarchist (p. 393).

For Corrêa, talking about anarchism requires “a group of people with relatively homogeneous thoughts and actions, people who relate to each other, who have common references and who participate in some way in the social struggles of their time” (p. 397), and this is still not possible to identify before 1868. Therefore, he argues that, in a historical perspective, it is reasonable to establish the year 1868 “as a milestone from which it is possible to situate both the emergence of anarchism and the passage of Bakunin” to him (p. 397).

However, it is important to consider that this does not mean the development of an absolute and atomized anarchist notion by Bakunin, since, historically, it is observed that the fundamental characteristic of the anarchist tradition is that it always emerges “from the inseparable relationship between thinkers and popular movements, between anarchists and social struggles, in which both influence each other” (p. 397).

Corrêa points out that, for Bakunin's political theory of the years 1864-1876, both the practical experiences lived by the Russian revolutionary and the work of Proudhon and the theoretical-philosophical contributions of Feuerbach, Comte, Darwin, Marx and De Paepe (p. . 395).

However, Bakunin's anarchist conception is considered, by the Russian revolutionary himself, as an expansion and radicalization of Proudhon's anarchic system, stripping it of its metaphysical and idealistic clothing, and occupying itself with privileging, in Bakunin's words, "the matter [nature] in science and the social economy in history as the basis of all further developments” (p. 389).

From this, the researcher points out that both Bakunin's revolutionary socialism and his anarchism must be understood in their entirety, considering their theoretical-philosophical and political-strategic positions. However, the author explains that one cannot lose sight of the fact that Bakunin's appropriation of different authors and varied practical experiences “is done in a critical manner and does not, therefore, mean unrestricted adherence” (p. 389).

For Corrêa, in political terms, “Bakunin is a supporter of revolutionary socialism, collectivist socialism or anarchism” (p. 392). This can be defended insofar as, starting from the concepts of history, society, social force and social conflict, Bakunin elaborates “a harsh critique of domination in all its forms and of the statist-capitalist system, the modern expression of this historic domination” ( p. 392), although, many times, some inconsistencies appear in his project.

Corrêa explains: “It should be remembered that, between 1868 and 1876, Bakunin, supported by scientific-naturalist materialism, harshly criticized both domination in general, national domination and imperialism in particular, and narrow nationalism and patriotism. In contrast, he defends popular emancipation, national liberation, anti-imperialism, internationalism, classism and the self-determination of peoples. Starting from such bases, both the demand for a collective dictatorship of the allies and the demonstration of frankly anti-Semitic positions seem incongruous with his political theory” (p. 549).

Finally, it is worth highlighting the relevance of the research carried out by Felipe Corrêa, now in book form, as an important material capable of properly substantiating the process of consolidation of radical political thought and especially the revision of the concept of freedom, now no longer restricted to the State .

The analysis presented by the researcher, starting from the passage from the metaphysical understanding of man to the radical understanding of class and its historicity, to scientific materialism, allows us to understand some of the steps taken to think about the emergence of critical ontology to philosophical idealism, which was the basis of most of liberal political theories, and which, based on the context analyzed by Corrêa, was concerned with orienting itself towards struggle and revolution.

Here, then, available to the academic community and to appreciators, not only of the history and work of Bakunin and of anarchism, but also of the history of political-social theory in the XNUMXth century, a very rich material, certainly capable of clarifying many historical ruptures, such as encourage new research and new problems.

*Eloisa Benvenutti de Andrade, PhD in Philosophy, she is a professor at Faculdade Cásper Libero and at the São Paulo State Education Network.


Felipe Correa. Freedom or Death: Theory and Practice of Mikhail Bakunin. São Paulo, Faísca Libertarian Publications, 2019) (https://amzn.to/3YDX3rW).

See this link for all articles