In an article on the subject of whether the founder of modern anarchism, Mikhail Bakunin, was anti-Semitic, (1) I demonstrated that Bakunin believed the two things which are characteristic of anti-Semitic thought, in so far as he asserted that the jews were a biological group or nation and that he regarded them, as a group, as being politically, socially, culturally and economically subversive.
What I did not do in my previous article — quite deliberately, I might add — was discuss Bakunin’s broader views on the jews, but rather narrowly focused on the question of whether Bakunin was or was not an anti-Semite. Now we should address Bakunin’s thought on the subject more generally, with one significant caveat, in so far as I will leave out Bakunin’s anti-jewish comments in relation to his war of words with Karl Marx, except when they have a broader utility, as these are specific to their debate and not to jews more generally.
To begin with it is worth briefly pointing out to the reader that Bakunin’s thought was focused around the dichotomy of what he styled as freedom and slavery. Bakunin’s position was that while the theorists of socialism correctly identified that the material conditions of society were the basis — and to varying extents the cause — of many currents of thought (no less socialism itself [which Bakunin recognised, while many socialists did, and still do, not]), their cure was simply more of the same with a different label attached to it.
Instead of putting the means of production in the hands of the masses writ large, the theorists of socialism foresaw them in the hands of a central body which would administer them in the name of the people. This, as Bakunin rightly foresaw, would simply be more of the same with the replacement of the ‘capitalist bourgeoisie’ with a ‘socialist bourgeoisie’.
In this Bakunin predicted the rise of the monolithic socialistic bureaucracies and also why they would inevitably fail due to their inability to compete with the smaller, but still large, capitalist bureaucracies, which had less reason, or less scope, for inventing work and projects to justify their existence and their pay packets compared to their socialist contemporaries.
Bakunin argued in contrast that an equal share of the means of production should be placed at the disposal of the individual (as anything else would enslave the individual will to the collective will), who then could take their labour power and share of the means of production and place it at the disposal of autonomous collectives who held things in common, but could withdraw from and enter another collective at any time. This system emphasized the importance of individual will as opposed to the collective will, and that if an individual was not able to make free choices about the use of his own labour power, freedom could never be attained and slavery would be re-established.
This individualism in the service of the collective, combined with a materialist view of history, lies at the heart of Bakunin’s critique of the jews. It is important to note, as many of his biographers do not, that Bakunin’s criticisms of Christianity via his comments about the jews (much like those of Voltaire, Bauer and Feuerbach, who we know Bakunin read) are aimed at the two groups in very different ways.
Bakunin criticises Christianity as being an illogical, farcical religion that acts simply as a rationalization for the economic and social slavery of the masses to the elite as well as a tool to channel and suppress dissent. However, that is about as strong as Bakunin gets on the subject, given that while he was a strident atheist, he did appreciate the contribution of Christianity to what we might call the ‘brotherhood of man’ in that sections of the Christian churches had long acted as an anti-capitalist vanguard, and Christianity had also long opposed some of the worse practices of capitalism, such as usury. (2)
Bakunin’s true ferocity comes out when he discusses the origins of Christianity in Judaism as well as the jews themselves. Indeed, when Bakunin talks of the Christian God, he repeatedly makes it plain that he views him simply as being Jehovah, the tribal god of the jews. The god who Bakunin argues is the ultimate tyrannical despot when he is governing the jews (while being much milder to Christians) and bears a large amount of the responsibility, as a concept, for having enslaved humanity to the abuses of capitalism.
Bakunin tells us that:
’ He [Moses] found himself a very brutal, very selfish, very cruel God called Jehovah: who is the national god of the Jews. But the Jews; despite the exclusive national spirit that distinguishes them today, had become the most international people of the world long before the birth of Christ.’ (3)
As well as:
‘The example of the contradiction or anomaly we offered is often apparent in a wider sphere: in the history of nations. To explain, for example, that the Jewish nation is the closest and most exclusive in the world. So that it is single and narrow: recognizing a unique privilege in its divine election as the main basis of its entire national existence. Israel regards herself as the most favoured of all the people of the world to the point of imagining that their God Jehovah - God the Father of Christians – has only cared for them while inflicting the wildest cruelty on all other nations having ordered the eradication by fire and sword of all the people who resided in the land promised to the Jews.’ (4)
In addition to:
‘This is the reality both cruel and brutal than the good gods of all religions, the gods of battle, never failed to bless, starting with Jehovah, the God of the Jews, the eternal Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has commanded his chosen people to massacre all the inhabitants of the Promised Land.’ (5)
While yet further that:
‘In Alexandria, the terrible God of the Jews was the personal knowledge of the metaphysical divinity of Plato, already very corrupted by contact with the East and further corrupting later by his. Despite its national exclusiveness, jealous and fierce, he could not long resist the thanks to this ideal and impersonal deity of the Greeks.’ (6)
In these passages from Bakunin’s works, we can immediately see that Bakunin’s criticism of Christianity is not against what might be called the ‘spirit of Christianity’ , but rather against the godhead that Christians worship because that god is the generally homicidal and despotic god of the jews, Jehovah.
Bakunin’s contempt for Jehovah and what might be termed ‘the superstitions of the jews’, and his belief that jewish religious thought was not philosophy (i.e. it was superstitious nonsense not fit to be called rational metaphysical speculation) is most obvious in his point that the pure philosophy of Plato had been heavily corrupted in Alexandria, the de facto capital of the jews in classical times, by the addition of nonsense of oriental superstitions from the East.
Some might be tempted to read this comment by Bakunin as being a generalized condemnation of degenerate Eastern philosophy so commonly derided in his day, but if we look at what Bakunin is saying, he is actually being quite specific, not general, in his condemnation and identification of the source of this philosophic pollution.
He is telling us in no uncertain terms that the source of this pollution was the mixture of Greek philosophy (i.e. pure reason) with the worship of the jewish god Jehovah (i.e. pure superstition), which then created Christianity (i.e. in Hegelian terms [remember that Bakunin was a Left Hegelian thinker]: Greek philosophy was the thesis and jewish superstition the anti-thesis, which created Christianity as its synthesis).
That Christianity was not all bad is a given in Bakunin’s thought because it contains a core of pure philosophy from Plato and others, but it also has grossly undesirable elements derived from jewish religious thought that needed to be extirpated with fire and sword. It is to Greek philosophy that Bakunin credits the positive elements of Christianity in terms of its contribution to the social struggle against capitalism; meanwhile, its superstitious and irrational elements are attributed by Bakunin (not unjustly) to Jehovah and the influence of the Old Testament (roughly-speaking the Tanakh of Judaism).
A suitable example to explain this is the concept of the witch, which is almost exclusively drawn from the Old Testament as well as the fact that we are explicitly told that no believer (be they jewish or Christian) shall suffer a witch to live. Thus the concept of the witch, to use Bakunin’s reasoning, would be derived from jewish writings and a significant number of individuals (usually estimated at between 20,000 to 100,000 men and women these days) were killed during the witch trials/craze (as they are alternatively known) because of jewish religious ideas that had been adopted into Christianity as part of its foundational intellectual synthesis.
Furthermore, because the concept of the witch was irrational superstition, according to Bakunin, this would logically mean that jewish superstition caused the deaths of a significant number of men and women by virtue of its sheer irrationality and thus was dangerous in and of itself.
This was not applied universally by Bakunin, since, as we have already seen, his view of Christianity and Christians was mixed, but his view of Judaism and jews was uniformly negative. This is further evidenced by a passage in his unfinished work ‘God and the State’ .
‘The pagan gods – and this was their principle characteristic – were first of all exclusively national gods. Very numerous, they necessarily retained a more or less material character, or, rather, they were so numerous because they were material, diversity being one of the principle attributes of the real world. The pagan gods were not yet strictly the negation of real things; they were only a fantastic exaggeration of them.’ (7)
In the above we can see that to Bakunin the pagan deities of old were rather different to Jehovah of the jews and the God of Christians. Bakunin proceeds to argue that Jehovah was ‘spiritualised’ by the Christians, having originally been an extreme example of a national god, given his unusual demand for racial purity and national exclusivity among his worshipers. (8) Bakunin saw Jehovah as a being who was ‘often stupid’ and ‘always gross and cruel’ . (9)
Indeed, Bakunin styles the jews as being an intellectually handicapped people given their ‘gross Jehovah’ (10), who was unable to reason in a straight line or even be somewhat consistent, unlike the pagan gods. For Bakunin this, as a materialist, was an expression of the mindset and abilities of the people who created Jehovah. So, while Jehovah was narrow-minded, proud, cruel and generally homicidal, so were his creators, the jews.
Bakunin also further confirms for us that none of what has come to be seen as ‘jewish conceptions’ of the Torah are in fact derived purely from Greek philosophy and are precious little to do with the jews themselves given that they didn’t come up with them or often even apply them to their own canonical texts. (11)
He also points out, not without humour, that the jews simply failed in all the requirements set to them by their supposedly all-powerful god Jehovah; instead, the Romans conquered and dominated the material world known to the jews, while the Greeks conquered and dominated the intellectual world known to the jews.
His point is that the jews are the people who created a homicidal tyrant with an IQ of 20 as their god and then couldn’t even fulfill the tasks that their supposedly all-powerful creator and protector set them. Instead, they spent their time killing each other and acting like sacred prostitutes engaging in the worship of just about every religion going only to run back to Jehovah when the going wasn’t so good.
To Bakunin then the jews had corrupted Plato and pure philosophy with their superstitious beliefs (12), creating Christianity as its synthesis, so they therefore carry the responsibility for both the crimes committed in the name of Christianity (usually with Old Testament passages cited as intellectual support and justification) as well as their own behaviour in the Old Testament. This is an argument that, along with Bakunin’s clear identification of the jews as primarily a nation, not a religious group, is clearly anti-Semitic and a refreshingly realistic if rhetorically acerbic attitude to the jews.
This is in spite of attempts to style Bakunin’s anti-Semitism as being non-general in nature, as Mark Leier has attempted to do, (13) and to do so he asserts that Bakunin’s anti-Semitic comments form only a small part (not as he tries to say ‘a minuscule’ one: as we can quickly realise from the fact that anti-jewish comments and themes appear in all of Bakunin’s major works), but this is an argument born from intellectual desperation, not from intellectual rigor; given that while this is superficially true, Bakunin never had any real reason to write about the jews specifically in relation to the themes of his work (which were after all founded in philosophy, economics and religion [specifically Christianity], not on detailed commentary about other religious systems or commentary about who held the means of production and thus the reins of capitalism), yet he regularly did so and never in complementary terms.
Bakunin chose to write about the jews as he did (nobody forced him, and excuses for him are deliciously ironic when one notes the centrality of personal responsibility and will in Bakunin’s writings) and when one looks at his views on religion, it is clear that he had a deep-seated loathing of Jehovah specifically, and that he transferred that hatred to some extent (remember that he, as a materialist, holds the people who constructed a deity responsible for what the deity commands/rules/does/thinks etc.) on to the jews of his day.
This then inverts Leier’s argument that because Bakunin held that good things had come from the minds of some jewish individuals — such as Jesus Christ, Baruch Spinoza and Karl Marx — this meant that Bakunin didn’t judge the jews as being the enemy en bloc and thus wasn’t anti-Semitic. (14) Rather, Bakunin viewed, as I have indicated above, jews to be a problem as a nation but who then sometimes produced individuals who contributed to ‘pure reason’ . Therefore, he was anti-Semitic. (15)
Bakunin naturally denied that he viewed the jews as a problem as a nation but rather that there were jewish individuals who were the problem. The problem of this argument, even when made by Bakunin himself, is that his writing speaks otherwise, and he repeatedly referred to the jews in the plural rather than just saying the specific prophet and so on. He had no need to do so, and had he wished to make sure of making his individualistic meaning clear, he would have labelled the subjects and objects of his opprobrium appropriately and not as national groups.
Leier’s argument that because Bakunin said he allowed jews as individuals to be good, and that there had been notable jewish individuals who had significantly contributed to the advancement of pure reason, is annihilated when we rhetorically ask whether Leier would accordingly argue the same of Martin Luther?
Given of course that Martin Luther in ‘That Jesus Christ was Born a Jew’ argued that Jesus was born a jew, and furthermore, in his ‘On the Jews and their Lies’, in-between his violent anti-jewish rhetoric and criticism, Luther explicitly allowed that some jews would find the truth of Christianity in their hearts but that most jews were lost to the worship of Mammon or, as Bakunin might style it, money.
Much as Bakunin himself did, but with modern anarchism in conflict with capitalism as opposed to Christianity in conflict with Judaism.
Thus, we can see that Leier’s argument that Bakunin was not an anti-Semite is ill-founded and, as Guy Aldred noted, Bakunin viewed the jewish religion (and thus its jewish creators) as the origin of the anti-thesis to pure philosophy: superstition. (16)
Bakunin’s views on the jews as being the creators as well as the chief exponents of the new capitalist order are clear when he mentions that jews have repeatedly been baptised for the sake of personal profit (as the jews received a financial reward for converting to Christianity in the Russian Empire). (17) He sees the jews as being the archetypal capitalists and opponents of freedom in that they demand centralisation, be it capitalist or socialist, and accordingly those in charge of that centralized monetary authority, whether they be capitalists or socialists, are jews (i.e. Rothschild or Marx). (18)
This, as Bakunin tells us, cannot be a coincidence, and elsewhere he notes, once again acerbically, that one finds jews dominated both finance and the press as well as the revolutionary movements in Germany and Europe more generally, and that this is a very bad thing, as it renders said movements ipso facto ineffective. (19)
Bakunin tells us that the jews are the worst and most stereotypical of capitalists, being obsessed with pure profit and not caring what their eternal drive for more money does to the lives who are beholden to them in wage-slavery. (20) Not content with that, both capitalist and socialist jews use their social credentials, and many feign ‘jewish heroism’ to trick gentile women into sleeping with them, which they treat as a form of sport. (21)
The jews then are, to Bakunin’s mind, the mirror image of the god they created: Jehovah. In so far as they are greedy, cruel and very narrow-minded as well as obsessed with attaining world domination. They, in Bakunin’s time, attained power they had not held historically, and they then proceeded to behave exactly as their creation Jehovah bade them in the Old Testament. To Bakunin, the jews with their barbaric eastern superstitions were the corrupters of the pure reason expressed in Greek philosophic discourse, the capitalists par excellence, who abused and exploited their workers to an unprecedented extent and the ultimate tyrannical and despotic enemy, much like their god Jehovah, that had to be fought via the medium of class war.
- This view can be simply be checked by noting the identity of those cited by Friedrich Engels in his 1844 book ‘The Conditions of the Working Class in England’ .
- Mikhail Bakunin, 1907, ‘Oeuvres’ , Vol. 3, 5th Edition, P. V. Stock: Paris, pp. 99-100
- Ibid, Vol. 1, p. 175
- Ibid, p. 252
- Ibid, Vol. 3, pp. 115-116
- Mikhail Bakunin, n.d., ‘God and the State’ , 1st Edition, Modern Publishers: Indore, p. 84
- Ibid, pp. 84-85
- Ibid, p. 84
- Ibid, p. 85
- Ibid, pp. 85-86
- Ibid, pp. 86-91
- Mark Leier, 2006, ‘Bakunin: The Creative Passion. A Biography’ , 1st Edition, Seven Stories Press: New York, pp. 275-277
- Ibid, pp. 275-276
- As can be evidenced by actually reading the passage in Bakunin’s corpus that Leier cites only selective parts of: i.e. Bakunin, ‘Oeuvres’ , Vol. 5, Op. Cit., p. 244
- Guy Aldred, n.d., ‘Bakunin’s Writings’ , 1st Edition, Modern Publishers: Indore, p. 59
- Bakunin, ‘Oeuvres’ , Vol. 5, Op. Cit., p. 243
- Ibid, pp. 243-244; 255
- Aldred, Op. Cit., pp. 87-88
- Bakunin, ‘Oeuvres’ , Vol. 5, Op. Cit. p. 255
- Ibid, pp. 263-264