The Early Life and Radicalization of Bakunin There may come a time in one’s life in which he or she is driven by some desire to revolt, to rebel against the powers that be, and see that the order is changed. Indeed, many people have had those times in their lives; however, if there was ever a man that could be used as a shining example of that fire to see a revolution and carry it out, there would be few better than Mikhail Bakunin. Bakunin’s teachings helped make the anarchist movement a powerful force for change in the 19th century (Pyziur 1-2).
He was born in a time in which there was great political upheaval, in which great leftist thinkers such as Marx and Engels were his contemporaries. So devoted was Bakunin to revolution that, Richard Wagner, who with Bakunin took part in the Dresden uprising, testified that Bakunin inevitably turned every discussion to the theme of destruction, and that all of Wagner’s efforts to elaborate his esthetic [sic] aspirations remained unsuccessful. Thus, Bakunin richly deserved the frequently applied epithet of “apostle of pan-distruction” (Pyziur 3).
To understand Bakunin and his deep desire for social upheaval, one must look to his life, family, and experiences. The anarchist revolutionary Mikhail Alexandrovitch Bakunin was born in Russia on May 8th, 1814. He was born into a wealthy and rather aristocratic family that had an upwards of 2,000 serfs, both men and women (Aldred 1). His father, Alexander Bakunin, played an important role in his life and understanding such a man helps understand the man that Mikhail became. Alexander was the youngest son of three and was a brother to five sisters, and, unlike his father, was quite intellectual (Masters 1).
He was educated in Italy, where he became intimate with the liberal ideas of the time. He brought back these ideas with him to Russia. Unlike most other Russian landowners of the time, he was a “… tolerant, gentle, and kindly overlord” (Masters 2). However, he was no reformer and wished to stay content managing his estate. This all came crashing down in 1810 when he was 40 years old: Alexander fell in love with the 18 year old Varvara Muraviev, another of noble birth. They fell in love and had 11 children in total, of which Mikhail was one.
Varvara proved to be an excellent wife, devoting her time to Alexander, but a terrible mother that spent little time with her children. Bakunin said that, “… none of her children loved her… ” and “… just before he died, he blamed his own need for ultimate destruction on Varvara, whose ‘despotic character inspired him with an insensate hatred of every restriction liberty” (Masters 2). His mother proved to be a powerful force in his life, and not a positive one; however, because of her Mikhail got his fiery lust for revolution and freedom.
He was one of the older children and had a very close relationship with his sisters. Meanwhile, his father had a characteristically liberal view in contrast with the more unrefined Russian nobles. This view was put into words as one of Mikhail’s brothers wrote “we were born and grew up in Russia but under a clear Italian sky” ( Masters 4). However, Alexander underwent two changes, one in 1812 when Napoleon invaded Russia and the other in 1825, the year of the December Uprising (Masters 3). These events brought the nationalist out in him and thus he sent Mikhail off to Artillery School.
The Artillery school part of his life brought many changes to Mikhail. Coming from a sheltered life and the liberalism of his home in Premukhino he came to a rude awakening when he joined the mainstream in school. Ironically from his father’s desires, there were many students that idolized the members of the Decemberists, especially the martyred ones (Masters 7). As the years past Bakunin slowly lost his naivety from living in liberal nobility and became more worldly.
Furthermore, he picked up some nationalistic traits, writing to his parents that, The Russians are not French, they love their country and adore their monarch… One could not find a single Russian who could not sacrifice all his interests for the welfare of the sovereign and the prosperity of that fatherland” (Aldred 10). After taking a five year leave back home he returned to Moscow searching for passion. Sometime later he found a lover in a woman named Marie, however she soon left him and he was alone by himself, so he moved back home. This was a time under Tsar Nicholas’ reig hich was marked by conservatism and bureaucracy.
His reign helped strengthen Mikhail’s desire for revolution (Masters 10). A first showing of his revolutionary attitudes was towards his family, his father was trying to marry off his sister into a marriage that had no love. With a stunning show of how much influence his personality has he managed to win the hearts of his family, including an aunt that didn’t necessarily like him, and convince his father to stop the marriage (Masters 12). In 1835 Bakunin moved to Moscow, which was around the time that the famous German philosopher Hegel passed away.
His philosophy took Europe by storm and soon found its way into the intelligentsia of Russia. So obsessed were these circles that, “They discussed these subjects incessantly; there was not a paragraph in the three parts of the Logic, in the two of the Aesthetic, the Encyclopedia, and so on, which had not been the subject of desperate disputes for several nights together. ” (Masters 16). Bakunin became close to a philosopher named Nicholas Stankevich, who was well versed in German philosophy and they shared a love for the romantic and spiritual love of things.
This fire turned to idealism and he put forth his passion into philosophy. This love of Western European philosophy angered his father, who had turned into quite a reactionary conservative. This strained their relationship until Mikhail decided to leave home and go to Moscow, which ended up not being for very long because he had struggles financially supporting himself (Masters 26). Despite his arguments with his father, Mikhail’s study into philosophy helped push him into the anarchist he became later in life (Aldred 20).
Mikhail still caused trouble for the family, having another philosopher that preached revolutionary thought into the estate named Belinsky and Mikhail pressuring his sister to end her marriage, both of which ended in pain for Mikhail, “It was not working for him and his former enthusiasm turned to irritable disillusion. Both his interior and his exterior life seemed empty and were somehow utterly superficial. ” (Masters 33). Living with Belinsky brought drama within the household and he was unable to convince his sister to do what he thought was best. And so to escape his pit of despair he delved deeper into his study of Hegel.
He became well versed in the philosophy of Hegel and soon started to tutor his friends on him, including Belinsky, whom his relationship was mended with. Bakunin had plans to do with both his studies into Hegelianism and what he had learned about tactics dealing with people from his family. He wanted to spread his idea of revolution to the world (Masters 38). Having again strained his relationship with Belinsky, Mikhail sought to escape Russia and move to Germany where he could study philosophy more and get away from the more conservative Belinsky and his own father.
While trying to find funds for his trip to Germany, Mikhail met a man named Alexander Herzen, who was a liberal that was imprisoned for being a “daring free-thinker” (Masters 47). He was also deeply invested in Hegelian philosophy and they got along swimmingly. By pleading and begging his father for an allowance by making apologies and promises to the things he has done Mikhail was finally able to get funds from his father to go to Germany. He was also able to extract extra money out of Herzen. With these funds, he finally left for Berlin on June 29, 1840 at 26 years old (Masters 50).
In Berlin, Mikhail was able to spend more time with his sister Varvara; however, he soon learned that he did not enjoy her company. Luckily, he met a friend in Ivan Turgenev, another Russian in Berlin. Through Turgenev, he was able to find companionship, an apprentice, and last but not least a source of funds. Turgenev became one of Mikhail’s best friends and they lived together until November of 1842. In this time Bakunin studied hard in Leftist Hegelian thought and met many other Russians in Berlin that were interested in these philosophies. He attended Berlin University and listened to many professors debate philosophy.
It was in this climate that Bakunin started to truly shift his direction into that of a revolutionary, It was during this period that he was faced by a distinct challenge, and in fact the year 1842 was, without doubt, the threshold of Michael’s transition from abstract philosopher to abstract revolutionary. Before… Micheal was basically a conservative. He treasured what what unchanging… (Masters 58). he was a man that wished for destruction, up until this point, but yet found himself loving things that were slow, unchanging, and comfortable.
While he ruminated in his quarters he soon found himself consumed by the fire of revolution, for change. This period was what truly compelled him into the radical left. The group of students that fervently studied Hegel that Mikhail was a part of were called the Young Hegelians. With the publishing of The Essence of Christianity this group, “managed to find powerful reasons for turning politically dormant Hegelianism into revolution. ” (Masters 60). They reasoned that because everything is real then everything is also subject to change. It was this change that closely gripped their hearts.
In 1842 Bakunin moved from the more conservative Berlin to Dresden. There, he was able to get some of his work published in a journal called the Deutsche Jahrbucher (Masters 62). By this time, Bakunin became tired of idle philosophy and wished to instead use philosophy in action, to cause change within the public. He ended one of his essays as such: “Let us therefore trust the eternal spirit which destroys and annihilates only because it is the unfathomable and eternal source of all life. The passion for destruction is a creative passion, too. ” (Masters 63).
This revolutionary passion drove him to be interested in France, where the philosophy of revolution was very strong, and where famous philosophers Proudhon and Marx resided (Aldred 28). This passion for the French was shown by his pseudonym, Jules Elizard. One of the last stepping stones into the radical left was when he became friends with Wilhelm Weitling, a communist and an activist. There was no one phrase that moved Bakunin so much as his, “The perfect society has no government, nut only an administration, no laws, but only obligations, no punishments, but means of correction. (Masters 68).
This was, of course, something that Bakunin grappled onto as he made is mark in anarchist thought. He soon became interested in the plight of the workers. Around this time, he moved to Brussels, where he became fond of the Polish immigrants that were plotting against the Russian government. From this, Bakunin adopted the ideas of Pan-Slavism from these revolutionaries. Pan-Slavism stressed the unity of all the Slavic peoples, and he found it egregious that the Russian government treated other Slavic peoples so harshly (Pyziur 30).