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From Bakunin's "Capitalist System"

Selected writings

by Michael Bakunin

Everything that lives, does so under the categorical condition of decisively interfering in the life of someone else....

The worse it is for those who are so ignorant of the natural and social law of human solidarity that they deem possible or even desirable the absolute independence of individuals in regard to one another. To will it is to will the disappearance of society.... All men, even the most intelligent and strongest are at every instant of their lives the producers and the product. Freedom itself, the freedom of every man, is the ever-renewed effect of the great mass of physical, intellectual, and moral influences to which this man is subjected by the people surrounding him and the environment in which he was born and in which he passed his whole life.

To wish to escape this influence in the name of some . . . self-sufficient and absolutely egoistical freedom. is to aim toward non-being.

To do away with this reciprocal influence is tantamount to death. And in demanding the freedom of the masses we do not intend to do away with natural influences to which man is subjected by individuals and groups. All we want is to do away with is factitious, legitimized influences, to do away with the privileges in exerting influence.

- * -

Juridically they are equal; but economically the worker is the serf of the capitalist . . . thereby the worker sells his person and his liberty for a given time. The worker is in the position of a serf because this terrible threat of starvation which daily hangs over his head and over his family, will force him to accept any conditions imposed by the gainful calculations of the capitalist, the industrialist, the employer.... The worker always has the right to leave his employer, but has he the means to do so? No, he does it in order to sell himself to another employer. He is driven to it by the same hunger which forces him to sell himself to the first employer.

The worker's liberty . . . is only a theoretical freedom. lacking any means for its possible realization. ant consequently it is only a fictitious liberty. an utter falsehood. The truth is that the whole life of the worker is simply a continuous and dismaying succession of terms of serfdom--"voluntary from the juridical point of view but compulsory from an economic sense--broken up by momentarily brief interludes of freedom accompanied by starvation; in other words, it is real slavery.

- * -

We see that the richest property owners . . . are precisely those who work the least or who do not work at all.

It is evident to anyone who is not blind about this matter that productive labor creates wealth and yields the producers only misery, and it is only non-productive, exploiting labor that yields property.... What is property, what is capital in their present form? For the capitalist and the property owner they mean the power and the right, guaranteed by the State, to live without working. And since neither property nor capital produces anything when not fertilized by labor--that means the power and the right to live by exploiting the work of someone else. The right to exploit the work of those who possess neither property nor capital and who thus are forced to sell their productive power to the lucky owners of both.

- * -

The only thing that the State can and must do . . . is gradually to modify the right of inheritance so as to achieve its complete abolition as soon as possible. . . . We claim that this right will necessarily have to be abolished because as long as inheritance lasts, there will be hereditary economic inequality--not the natural inequality of individuals, but the artificial inequality of classes--which will necessarily continue to be expressed in hereditary inequality of the development and cultivation of intelligence and will remain the source and sanction of all political and social inequality.

- * -

Will this abolition be just?

A man, we are told, has acquired through his labor several tens or hundreds of thousands of francs, 8 million, and he will not have the right to leave them as an inheritance to his children Is this not an attack on natural right, is this not unjust plunder?

It has been proven 8 thousand times that an isolated worker cannot produce much more than what he consumes. We challenge any real worker, any worker who does not enjoy a single privilege, to amass tens or hundreds of thousands of francs, or millions That would be quite impossible. Therefore, if some individuals in present-day society do acquire such great sums, it is not by their labor that they do so but by their privilege, that is, by a juridically legalized injustice. And since a person inevitably takes from others whatever he does not gain from his own, we have the right to say that all such profits are thefts of collective labor, committed by a few privileged individuals with the sanction of the State and under its protection."

Maximoff, G. P. (Ed.); The Political Philosophy of Bakunin:
Scientific Anarchism, N.Y: Free Press, l953.

Cutler, Robert M. (Ed.); From Out of the Dustbin
Bakunin's Basic Writing's 1869-1871, Ann Arbor: Ardis, 1985.


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