From: Ishill, Joseph. (1927). Élisée and Élie Reclus: In Memoriam. Compiled, ed. and printed by Joseph Ishill. Berkeley Heights, N.J.: Oriole Press.


After receiving "general enlightenment" in a primary school, each ought to be able to develop to the full such intellectual capacity as he may possess, in a life which he has freely chosen. Meanwhile let not the worker despair. Every great conquest of science ends by becoming public property. paragraph

There was a time when the great majority of men were born and lived as slaves, and had no other ideal than a change of servitude. It never entered their heads that "one man is as good as another." Now they have learnt it, and understand that the virtual equality bestowed by evolution must be changed into real equality, thanks to a revolution. Instructed by life, the workers comprehend certain economic laws much better than even professional economists.


Elisée Reclus



THEY knew each other very well, as men and as anarchists, though they did not arrive at thorough practical cooperation. Among the young revolutionary generation whom Bakunin, after twelve years absence in prison and exile (1849-61), tried to win over to his ideas and co-ordinate as a solid revolutionary body, the brothers Elie and Elisée Reclus in Paris could not escape his keen attention. Moreover Elie Reclus and Bakunin had some common Polish friends and through these all three met when in November 1864 Bakunin returned from Stockholm and London to Italy. He had then planned and begun to form a secret society which, as we see from documents written 1866 was called the Société internationale révolutionnaire and which, since its active members were called Frères inter-nationaux was soon called the Fraternité internationale. He was intent on giving to the coming revolution which the decline of Napoleon Ill's autocracy appeared to make imminent and inevitable, a social revolutionary character, State-destroying and well guarded against the dangers which unmade previous revolutions, dictatorship, exclusive exploitation in the bourgeois interest, etc. Europe was to be reconstructed on the basis of local autonomy and federation, irrespective of present State boundaries; work was to be done by the widest application of the principle of association; privilege was to be abolished by the abolition of the right of inheritance, all property of any importance devolving. upon the death of the present owner to a fund for the education, instruction and apprentisage of all children, in order to give within a generation an equal start to all. These ideas and corresponding revolutionary action, wherever possible, were to be realized by groups and societies of all kind which would he secretly formed and their action co-ordinated, controlled and inspired in a thoroughly revolutionary sense by the national and international brethren. Elie and Elisée Reclus accepted this idea which at that time, when Mazzini and Blanqui had gathered the nationalists of several countries and the authoritarian socialists of France in similar societies, was a very practical thought, conceived before the International Working Men's Association was ever founded.

Elisée Reclus was long since an anarchist at heart and willing to support all efforts towards this aim; there was no anarchist movement at that time and Bakunin's attempt was the nearest approach to it. The eruption of Mount Etna in the spring of 1865 caused Elisée to travel to Sicily; he described this journey in La Sicile et l'Éruption de l'Etna en 1865. Récit de voyage in Le Tour du Monde, the popular geographical paper, vol. VIII (1865), pp. 353-416 and in the Reveu deux Mondes, July 1, 1865, pp. 110-138. It was then he stayed at Florence to visit Bakunin and he was further introduced into the working of the secret society, he saw the local Italian members, among these Angelo de Gubernatis who married a Russian relation of Bakunin and was for a short period interested in his ideas. Elisée continued his connection with Bakunin per correspondence, but all letters are lost.paragraph end

When the Geneva congress which led to the foundation of the League for Peace and Freedom was convoked June 11, 1867, the brothers Reclus like so many others signed the first list of adherents. Bakunin participated in the Congress (September 1867), his first appearance at what was considered the first convention of European democracy ever held. The two Reclus were active in that organization and Elisée who assisted at the second congress, held at Berne (September 1868), gave a very graphic account of the inner working of that congress in a letter to his brother printed in the "correspondence" vol. I. The League was after all essentially bourgeois and Bakunin and his friends severed their connections with it at the end of the Berne Congress where Bakunin had upheld his ideas in a number of splendid discourses. Among the 18 who signed the Collective Protest of the dissident members of the Congress were Bakunin who wrote it, and, of Frenchmen, Elisée Reclus, Aristide Rey, Victor Jaclard, Charles Keller, J. Bedouche, all of Paris, and Albert Richard, of Lyons. Most of these and their comrades of other nationalities then founded the International Alliance of Socialist Democracy. Those who were members of Bakunin's intimate circle, the Fraternity, formed a secret organization underlaying the new Alliance. Bakunin considered such arrangements important to assure punctual coöperation; Reclus was of those who never cared to enter into the detail of all this net-work of organization. About that time the Spanish revolution took place, the dethronement of Isabella, and Elie Reclus who was in touch with the Spanish republicans travelled to Spain together with Aristide Rey, an advanced socialist, but not a man of action. Elie Reclus' impressions of Spain are printed in the Paris Revue politque et littéraire of the following months. Bakunin's most active Italian comrade Giuseppe Fanelli, also went to Spain for purely revolutionary purposes: he organized the first sections of the Internationale in Madrid and in Barcelona and selected the first initiated so well, imparted the complete ideas of Bakunin into them so thoroughly, that indeed the whole large organization of the Spanish Internationale was built up as a sequel to this initiative and in the spirit of Bakunin's ideas which were also those of the Italian and of a portion of the Swiss and French internationalists. Whatever Elisée might have done in this situation, Elie Reclus was not satisfied with Fanelli's proceedings; he felt himself bound to his Republican friends and resented Fanelli's consequent action undermining the faith in all politicians, hence also in the Federalist Republicans. This fact and the inevitable action of Bakunin, namely his literary protest against the particular shade of socialism proposed in Paris by a lady socialist, Madame André-Léo who advocated temporizing ideas, a social cooperation of bourgeois and workers, -- this lady was also a friend of the Reclus -- caused rather a deep estrangement between Bakunin and Elie, whilst he never had any difference with Elisée, as far as I know. Elisée took no sides, respecting Bakunin, loving his brother and, as he had not yet passed through the ordeal of the Paris Commune and the Versailles cruelty, probably inclining until then towards the moderate conceptions of his brother rather than to the realistic revolutionary views of Bakunin.paragraph end

This must be borne in mind to understand Bakunin's words on Elisée and Elie in a manuscript of 1871, dealing with the ideas of Mazzini:

"...She [Madame André-Léo in an address given in 1871, after the Commune] still believes in the reconciliation of the bourgeoisie and the proletariate.... I have not the honour to know her personally, but I know her very much nevertheless, first by her fine social novels which made her name famous in Europe, and then and before all as a friend of her most intimate friends, among the number of whom I will mention the two brothers Reclus, two learned men and at the same time the most modest, noblest, disinterested, purest men, the most religiously devoted to their principles whom I ever met in my life. If Mazzini had known them as I have, he would perhaps have convinced himself, that one may be deeply religious, whilst professing atheism. They are to the highest degree men of duty and they have done their duty to the bitter end. They both served the Commune. I do not know what has become of the elder, but I know that second [Elisée] is on the hulks at Brest, with thousands of national guards prisoners as himself and whom he supports by his always serene intelligence, his unbounded love and his admirable moral force."

"United in principles, we were very often, nearly always, separated on the question of the realization of these principles. They also, like their lady friend, believed, at least they did so two years ago, in the possibility of conciliating the interests of the bourgeoisie with that of the legitimate revindications of the proletariate. They also believed, like Mazzini, that the proletariate ought to join hands with the radical bourgeoisie for a revolution which would at first be exclusively political, in order to proceed then with the help of the same bourgeoisie to economical and social reforms."

'They, before all taught me to know Madame André-Léo, their friend...."

Of course it would be necessary to differentiate the ideas of Elie, Elisée and Madame André-Léo, which were not at all identical, but the passage shows above all the deep impression the character of the two brothers had made on Bakunin: to very few men did he bestow similar praise.paragraph end

Bakunin's diary for 1872 notes how they meet again. April 11 (Locarno): unexpected arrival of Elisée Reclus; 13: letter to Elisée Reclus with letters to Milan internationalists enclosed; 18: Bakunin and Fanelli proceed by the Lago Maggiore to Luino and thence to Lugano where they pass the whole day with Reclus who had settled there; May 2, 3: letters exchanged and Elisée sends Bakunin tea; other correspondence, May 17, 18, June 1, 4 and November 3, 6. In Zürich Bakunin visits Elie Reclus (July 7, October 11). Elisée visits him in December 1872, in Locarno; in a letter to Louis Pindy, a member of the Paris Commune, Bakunin whose further diaries are lost, wrote January 11, 1873:

"We, and I before all, have so few French friends. You, Alerini came-that is our entire circle. Ah! I must not forget this excellent Elisée Reclus who came to see me three or four weeks ago [December 17, 1871 and with whom we arrive at an always better understanding. He is the model of a man -- so pure, noble, simple, modest and forgetful of self. He has perhaps not all desirable diable-au-corps [Bakunin's favourite expression to describe unbounded revolutionary energy and initiative] but this is a matter of temperament and "the finest girl cannot give more than she has got." (French proverb.] He is a valuable friend, most assuredly, quite serious, quite sincere and completely our own.

These remarks also allow it to be seen that Elisée held aloof from the inner, intimate movement, but enjoyed Bakunin's highest respect and sympathies nevertheless. When Elisée Reclus' second wife, Madame Fanny Reclus, died in Lugano, Bakunin sent the following unpublished letter:

"February 19, 1874. Locarno

My friend- This is a terrible misfortune! In presence of such a catastrophe, there is no consolation. The only possible thing is to straighten oneself against fatality, the only way out is to do what one must do, to the bitter end. After this there is a kind of sweetness in the sympathy of a small number of friends... that's all -- Public affairs for several years, since the fall of the Commune of Paris have ceased to be a compensation, they are a duty and one of the hardest duties. How did the poor children support the death of their adopted mother? --Fortunately you are not alone--two good souls near you share your sadness --

Let me have news of you, I love you with my whole heart,

Your devoted



When in the autumn of 1874, Bakunin, now retired from militant life, proposed to write his Memoirs -- an idea which he communicates to his old Russian friend Ogarev (Nov. 11, 1874) and of which the fragment "History of my Life", dealing with his childhood, is perhaps the only portion ever written -- he asked Reclus to put this and another proposed book of his into shape and into good French, for Bakunin ignored the exigencies of literary proportions, and his French, excellent as it was, showed Italianism here and there after nearly ten years had passed in Italian-speaking surroundings. A letter by Reclus written December 13, 1874, did not reach Bakunin; when this became evident, Reclus wrote again, (La Tour de Peilz), [Clarens, Vaud], February 8, 1875; in this letter he assures Bakunin "that I am always your sincere friend and independent brother", he is quite ready to revise the manuscript. "I expect with impatience your "Memoirs" and the "State of my ideas". Work, my friend, we shall have leisure for work. The over flooding river of the Revolution will re-enter its bed without having caused much havoc."

He also says:

"Shall I tell you that I am not angry at what happens in France [alluding to the unmitigated reaction of that period]. The evolution which goes on, is a normal evolution. This is the bourgeoisie in abstract state, without exterior integuments, without the old symbols, which will reign over us. They will give so much the better the measure of their true value. We shall have to pass through very evil days, but at least this experience will be conclusive and complete.

My little girls, for the education of whom I had to leave Lugano, are doing well. Greetings to your wife and the friends.

Your old comrade,


To this letter Bakunin replied on February 15, 1875 by a letter which may be called his political testament, since it records for the last time his views on the European future, as he foresaw it. Later letters to his friend Reichel and others allude also to general questions, but none in the precise form as this one:

"February 13, 1875. Lugano.

My very dear friend--I thank you much for your good words. I never doubted your friendship; this sentiment is always reciprocal and I judge of yours by mine--

Yes, you are right, the Revolution has for the moment reentered its bed. We fall back into the period of evolutions, that is in that of underground, invisible, often even insensible revolutions. -- The present day evolution is very dangerous, if not for humanity, at least for certain nations -- it is the last incarnation of an exhausted class, playing out its last card under the protection of military dictatorship -- the MacMahon-Bonapartist dictatorship in France, that of Bismark in the rest of Europe.

I agree with you in saying that the hour of the revolution is past, not an account of the frightful distress which we have witnessed and of the terrible defeats whose more or less guilty victims we have been -- but because to my great despair I have ascertained and I acertain every day afresh, that revolutionary thought, hope and passion do absolutely not exist in the masses, and when these are absent, we may well make every possible effort, we shall achieve nothing -- I admire the heroic patience and perseverance of the Jurassians and the Belgians -- [of the Internationale] -- these last Mohicans of the late Internationale -- who in spite of all difficulties, adversities and obstacles in the midst of general indifference oppose an obstinate front to the absolutely contrary current of things, who continue quietly to do what they did before the catastrophes when the movement was on the ascendant and when the smallest effort created new forces --

Their work is so much more meritorious as they will not reap its fruits, but they can be certain that their labour will not be lost-nothing is lost in the world-and drops of water, invisible by themselves, none the less go to make the ocean -

As for myself, my dear friend, I have become too old, too ill, too tired, and must I tell you, in many directions too disillusioned, to feel the desire and the strength to partake in this work -- I am quite decidedly retired from the struggle and shall pass the rest of my days in contemplation, not in an idle one, but on the contrary in an intellectually very active contemplation which, I hope, will not fail to produce something useful --

One of the passions which dominate me at this hour, is an immense curiosity -- Since I have had to recognize that evil has triumphed and that I cannot hinder it, I began to study the evolutions and the developments of this evil with a quasi-scientific passion which is quite objective --

What actors and scenes: -- in the background, domineering the whole European situation, are the Emperor William and Bismarck at the head of a great nation of flunkeys -- against them are arrayed the Pope with his Jesuits. The whole Roman Catholic Church, rich in milliards, ruling over a vast part of the world through women, through ignorance of the masses and the incomparable skill of their unavowed allies who have their eyes everywhere and their hands in everything.

Third actor -- French Civilization incarnated in MacMahon, Dupauloup (the archbishop] and Broghie [the duke] forging the chains for a great fallen people -- Then around all these, Spain, Italy, Austria, Russia, each putting on a mask for the occasion -- and at some distance England, unable to make up her mind again to become something, and at greater distance still the model republic of the U. S. A. coquetting already with military dictatorship --

Poor humanity!

It is evident that it can only escape from this sewer by an immense social revolution -- But how can it achieve this revolution? Never was international European reaction so formidably armed against all popular movements -- Repression was made a new science taught systematically to the lieutenants of all countries in the military schools -- and what have we got to attack this inexpugnable fortress? -- The disorganized masses. But how organize them, when they are not even sufficiently impassioned for their own salvation, when they ignore what they ought to desire, and when they do not want that which alone save them --

There is the propaganda left such as the Jurassians and the Belgians are making -- This is something no doubt, but it is very little: a few drops of water in the ocean and if there were no other means of salvation, humanity would have time to rot away ten times over before it is rescued.

Another hope remains: universal war -- These immense military States must or sooner or later destroy and demur each other -- But what a perspective.."

Here the fourth page of this letter ends; Bakunin foresaw up to 1914, the masses abiding spiritless, propaganda and organization unavailing, the interdestructive world "what a perspective"... it is much to be regretted that Reclus did not preserve the rest of this letter. (La Tour de Peilz, April 7, 1875): he believed that the Republic in France would last, being now the pure form of bourgeois domination which no longer requires a Napoleon. This simplifies the question between capital and labour.

"...This does not prevent- Reclus continues- my being like you very uneasy about the definite result. For a long time I no longer believe in the fatality of progress; it is very possible that we have only whims and no will. But what reassures me is the great scientific movement of our time. Even if that in the Darwinian evolution, in the study of the conservation of energy, in comparative sociology. I do not say like I don't remember which apostle "truth will set us free", but it will do at least one half of that task."...-

I may add that Bakunin also in the latter part of 1875 was cheered up by the anti-clerical movements of this time, in Germany, in France, even in the Swiss canton, the Ticino (Tessin) where he lived; he writes October 19, 1875,to Adolph Reichel:

..."now it seems to me to he again useful and necessary to raise the old long forgotten cry of the Encyclopaedians: "Écrasons l'infame" [Crush the infamous, sc. Church] -and as in my good old fanatical time when 1 used to say: why talk to me of impartiality! we will leave over impartiality to the Lord! -so I begin again to care very little about abstract justice: all that ruins the priestcraft and the priests is right and fair to me"...

Here again we see that Bakunin and Reclus agree entirely in principle--the hope they derived from efforts for the intellectual emancipation of mankind at least--but in practice Reclus turns to science and Bakunin renews the glorious old cry: écrasons l'infâme! paragraph end

Elisée Reclus had contributed very little to definitely anarchistic publications until then. He had written however: Some Words on Property for the Jurassian Almanach du Peuple pour 1873 (Saint Imier, Propagande socialiste), which article is identical with the little pamphlet A mon frère le paysan [To my brother peasant] which in later years, since 1893, has been so often reprinted and translated; it exists in out-of-the-way languages like Armenian (1893)and even in two dialects of Breton, that of Tréguier and that of Vannes (Guingamp,1912)paragraph end

The international section where Reclus lived, on the lake of Geneva, was very small; in the letter of April 7, 1875, he tells Bakunin:

"The little section of Vevey is doing rather well. There are two men who are zealous and one who is half zealous. You see this is much"...

The movement revived already in 1876. On March 19 the section of Lausanne held a large special meeting in memory of the Commune. Reclus' speech is not preserved, but tradition says that at this meeting he first declared himself a communist-anarchist before a large public.paragraph end

No further communications between him and Bakunin, who died July 1, 1876 in Berne, seem to have taken place, but after Bakunin's death, when others did not see their way to make his work better known, Reclus' keen and sober glance dived twice into Bakunin's unpublished manuscripts and both times hit on a memorable piece, on The Commune of Paris and the State conception, 1878 and on Bakunin's masterpiece God and the State, 1872. Whilst Bakunin's published writings, mostly called forth by questions of the moment, became scarce and almost forgotten, God and the State, this theoretical and yet so practical fragment, found its way everywhere since 1882 by reprints and translations and kept alive a good deal of Bakunin's ideas and the desire to learn more of him, which by and by was fulfilled to a considerable extent. I took some part in this and I can say that the moment both Kropotkin and Elis´e;e Reclus saw that my interest in this subject was a lasting one, they helped me thoroughly. It was then I often spoke with Reclus on Bakunin and heard some of the above-given details and many others. Reclus had no memory for trifling things, but a wonderful insight in broad outlines. He was the most complete, already full grown anarchist whom Bakunin met, Proudhon excepted: he therefore fell the least under Bakunin's direct personal influence and was always what he calls himself in 1875, his independent brother. The mutual respect and friendship between these two men who widely differed in many ways, is an honour to both of them.paragraph end




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