Was Bakunin an Intellectual or an Activist or Both?

File:Mikhail Bakunin and Antonia.jpg

I was giving an interview yesterday, and the subject of Bakunin came up at one point. The general remarks I made were along the lines of recognizing Bakunin as an inspiring rhetorician and militant activist, but largely agreeing with the common view of Bakunin scholars that he actually added very little to intellectual pursuits beyond his role as  revolutionary, polemicist, and strategist. The standard view of Bakunin’s thought is that it is largely derivative, drawing from Proudhon, Marx, Hegel, Herzen, pan-Slavism, French anti-clericalism, etc.

So afterwards I started thinking a bit about Bakunin’s theoretical contributions to anarchism. Peter Marshall gives a good overview of these in “Demanding the Impossible.” There is his famous critique of Marxism and state socialism, and his emphasis on the revolutionary potential of the lumpenproletariat and the peasantry, both of which Marx disdained. He was also an early critic of scientism and the potential for the deification of science to become a new form of oppression. And he preceded Weber, Michels, Pareto, Nomad, Dennis, Orwell, and Burnham as an analyst of bureaucratic oligarchies.

However, more recent Bakunin scholarship indicates that he made a much greater contribution to philosophy that is commonly recognized, and that his political anarchism actually had a far reaching intellectual foundation which has never been properly considered or understood. See Paul McLaughlin’s work in this area.

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