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The Cynosure

  Michael Bakunin
  William Godwin
  Emma Goldman
  Peter Kropotkin
  Errico Malatesta
  Pierre-Joseph Proudhon
  Elisée Reclus
  Max Stirner
  Murray Bookchin
  Noam Chomsky
  Bright but Lesser Lights
  Cold Off The Presses
  Anarchist History
  Worldwide Movements
  First International
  Paris Commune
  Haymarket Massacre
  Spanish Civil War
  Art and Anarchy
  Education and Anarchy
  Anarchist Poets


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essential humanity, some temporary weakening under torture, and the hero is gone. All is destroyed. Even the mighty worth that challenged persecution and rose so bravely for the benefit of mankind from its yieldings to temptation is denied. Time, the great healer, rights that also. Finally, posterity sees neither god nor the weakling but the man as he was in the actual setting of his time and circumstance. Remembering this let us consider Bakunin's confessions from prison and all that happened to them and him.

To Nicholas I. Bakunin wrote:

"In Eastern Europe, wherever we look, we see senility, weakness, lack of faith, all are charlatanising. Learning has become the same as powerlessness."

Nicholas wrote in his own hand in the margin: "A wonderful truth." Certainly the statement was true. It depicts class society in all its drab futility. As a truth the Czar could not be expected to appreciate its force. He toyed with it as an empty platitude. Its sound pleased him. It argued, apparently, against learning. He commended it because it gave him a picture of his victim squirming. We must read it in association with its contents. Bakunin describes himself as "a penitent" and defines his revolutionary activities as "criminal Don Quixotic-like nonsense." He styles his Socialist plans "as having been, in the highest sense, ludicrous, nonsensical, insolent, and criminal. Criminal against you, my Emperor, my Czar. Criminal against my Fatherland. Criminal against all spiritual, divine, and human laws."

As has been remarked already, Bakunin was nothing if not thorough. Whether he was promoting the revolution or abasing himself before the Czar, he enjoyed expressing himself to the very limit of his mood. The revolution was his earnest thought. The abasement must be considered a pose, assumed for some tactical objective. It ranks with the parliamentary oath of allegiance. The extremism of expression was Bakunin himself.

The petition continues: -

"It is hard for me, Czar of mine, an erring, estranged, misled son, to tell you he has had the insolence to think of the tendency and the spirit of your rule. It is hard for me because I stand before you like a condemned criminal. It is painful to my self-love. It is ringing in my ears as if you, my Czar, said: 'The boy babbles of things he does not understand'."

Bakunin repeats the phrase, that he is a criminal, over and over again. The Czar adds a note: "A sword does not fall on a bowed neck. Let God pardon him." The pardon was to be quite metaphysical. For his own part, the Czar intended to keep Bakunin jailed.

Nicholas was succeeded by Alexander II. Bakunin's mother petitioned to the new Emperor. The latter replied with affability: "As long as your son lives, Madam, he will never be free." To this Czar, Bakunin addressed a petition, dated February 4th, 1857.


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