This sketch is a primary source not only on the life of Bakunin, but also on the most significant events in the socialist movement of that period. It incidentally contributes valuable background information for many of the other selections in the present volume. Guillaume, who did not limit himself to recording events but also took part in shaping them, had been inclined toward anarchism even before he met Bakunin in 1869. Earlier, he had been one of the founders of the First International in Switzerland, where it held its first congress, in Geneva, in 1866. He attended all its congresses, and eventually published a four-volume history of the International. Guillaume also wrote widely on libertarian theory and practice and edited a number of periodicals. His extensive writings on cultural subjects included substantial contributions to the theory of progressive education as represented particularly by the early-nineteenth-century Swiss educator Johann Pestalozzi.
Cover illustration by Agustín Comotto
“This pamphlet is not meant to be a panorama of a possible future real world. It’s meant to be an observation on present day society with a view to changing it, as I believe it to be an insane asylum. It is so gigantic that most of us do not notice it. Most people have visions of a society of their desires but because of miseducation their views are frustrated. They have been so indoctrinated by their “teachers”: the classroom, from the pulpit, from parents who came through the same sausage machine indoctrination. From the cradle to the grave they are nurtured and subjected to varying degrees of subservience. In consequence they sniff for their master like an obedient pet dog. They seek their messiah, divine or mundane.
“If I could lead anyone into the land of milk and honey, I wouldn’t do it. Why? Because if I could lead anyone into it then I could lead them out of it. No one has the power to give you what you want without having the power to snuff it out. I want to be neither a mister somebody nor a mister nobody but merely a mister this body: neither to be possessed nor dispossessed. If I could change the social system by myself I would do so. But because of my incompetence I need allies: I need more strength; I need you. It is self-interest but an interest that is mutual. At present I hack at the social system as best I can like laboriously cutting away with pick and shovel at a mountain to get to my destination; Forever trying to muster sufficient dynamite in order to blow it out of existence. So I speak to you, especially you of the working class who have an immediate economic interest in destroying our maniacal social system. Economic freedom is the concrete base of all other freedoms. Without economic freedom another freedoms are merely spooks.
“I ask you then to rid yourself of spooks. Organise to achieve real freedom from your compulsory asylum. Karl Marx once exhorted the working class to unite. “Workers of the world unite, you have nothing to lose but your chains, you have a world to win.” However, he spent so much time in the British Museum that it would seem he had forgotten to advise them where to unite.
“In my pamphlet I try to show the futility of organising in political parties. I advise industrial and social organisation. A do-it-yourself movement and make the politicians redundant. Send them and the tycoons of industry into the museums of antiquity along with the spinning wheel and the bronze axe. One last word I hope after reading the pamphlet you may find the rational core within the mystical shell and boycott the vote.” — Robert Lynn
The cover illustration depicts the suicided Ajax, impaled on his sword, being covered by Tekmessa. When Achilles was killed it was Ajax who saved his body from the Trojans, hoping to be rewarded with Achilles’ magical armour, but Odysseus who had also been involved in the fighting also wanted the armour. To settle the matter the Greeks leaders, under Athena, voted by piling stones in front of the opponents; Ajax, who lost by one vote, went off in a hissy fit and slaughtered the Achaeans captured livestock, then commited suicide. How very unlike the post-electoral behaviour of our own dear politicians.