Statism and Anarchy/Critique of the Marxist Theory of the State

Mikhail Bakunin was an early theorist of anarchist revolution AND and an early anarchist critic of authoritarian leftism. Today’s anarchists need to be reading Bakunin, and not “critical race theory,” and today’s critics of PC culture need to be reading Bakunin and not watching Dave Rubin.


Written: 1873;
Source: Bakunin on Anarchy, translated and edited by Sam Dolgoff, 1971;
See Also: Conspectus of Bakunin’s Statism and Anarchy by Karl Marx, 1874.

Statism and Anarchy is the first completed volume of a larger projected work by Bakunin. Written in Russian, with special emphasis on Slavic problems, this work tremendously influenced Russian revolutionary thought.

In the first extract, “Critique of the Marxist Theory of the State,” Bakunin, without specifically naming Marx, nevertheless lays the groundwork for attacking what he saw as Marx’s “statism”.’

“The theory of statism as well as that of so-called ‘revolutionary dictatorship’ is based on the idea that a ‘privileged elite,’ consisting of those scientists and ‘doctrinaire revolutionists’ who believe that ‘theory is prior to social experience,’ should impose their preconceived scheme of social organization on the people. The dictatorial power of this learned minority is concealed by the fiction of a pseudo-representative government which presumes to express the will of the people.”

Bakunin’s predictions about state-dominated economy and regimentation of labor were based on measures advocated in the Communist Manifesto: centralization of credit and transportation by the State, obligatory work for all, the establishment of industrial armies, particularly in agriculture, etc.

The second excerpt, “Some Preconditions for a Social Revolution,” discusses two main questions: the subjective (psychological) and the objective (material) preconditions for a social revolution, and whether the Slavic peoples can achieve the Social Revolution through the establishment of a pan-Slavic or any other form of state. This naturally leads to a discussion of the nature of the State; and Bakunin proceeds to expound his view that the State is more than just “the executive committee of the capitalist class.” To this end he cites the example of the Serbia of his time, to show how the State can become a self-perpetuating dictatorship dominating both the people and the economy; how an immense army of government officials can create, under certain conditions, its own state, and “exploit the … people in order to provide the bureaucrats with all the comforts of life.” This description will bring readily to mind the fate of various modern national minorities who have freed themselves from their colonial masters and established their own states.

The final excerpt, taken from the appendix to Statism and Anarchy, deals primarily with the pre-conditions for a social revolution in Russia. Bakunin does not idolize the Russian peasant, nor does he, like so many of his contemporaries, uncritically accept the Mir (peasant community) as the ideal unit of the future society. In discussing the program of the moderate liberals and the Populists, Bakunin gives his views on the efficacy of cooperatives, and the establishment of colonies (communes) and other reformist measures to bring about fundamental social changes. He also outlines what intelligent and dedicated Russian youth from upper and middle classes could do to promote social revolution.

See Also: Marx and Engels on Russia.

Statism and Anarchy represents among other things Bakunin’s opposition to the argument of Auguste Comte (1798-1857), that social life must be regulated in accordance with the immutable laws of the physical sciences. In opposition to the Comtean positivists, Bakunin contended that the scientific laws governing inanimate objects could not apply to the behavior of living beings endowed with the faculty of choice and the ability to modify their conduct as the situation demanded. Bakunin objected to positivism as a “religion of humanity” under the aegis of a scientific church, and to any form of philosophic idealism or metaphysics, even if couched in scientific terms, as fundamentally reactionary because inclined “to force future generations into the narrow mold of … necessarily tentative theories.”


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