Michael Bakunin was born on May 18, 1814 in the Russian province of Tvar, one hundred and fifty miles northwest of Moscow.
He received his primary and secondary education in Italy.
At the tender age of fifteen, Bakunin was sent to artillery school in St. Petersburg.
Bakunin was expected to pursue a military career and had spent his youth preparing for that reality.
In 1832, only three years after his military career had begun, Bakunin earned a commission as a junior officer. Three years after his commission, he resigned from the military and headed to Moscow to pursue philosophical study.
Michael Bakunin was intrigued by the arts of the mind, specifically (and most importantly), the in-vogue Hegelian political theory that Bakunin would later describe as the “Algebra of Revolution”. Michael Bakunin was determined to make a change, be it through theory, agitation, or a combination of the two. He turned out to be a highly prolific theorist and an effective and feared agitator.
For most of his life he was running from those who would attempt to stop his agitation by stifling his voice, or worse, by taking his life.
After visiting Germany, Switzerland, and France to engage in political discourse and agitation, in February of 1844, Bakunin was order to return to Russia by the government there. In December of that year, Bakunin’s noble status was revoked by the Russian autocracy and he was sentenced in abstentia to Siberia for hard labor as punishment for his criticism of the Russian government and basic rebel rousing.
After making an Anti-Russian speech in November 1847 Michael Bakunin was expelled from France.
During this period in his life, Michael Bakunin corresponded with both Pierre-Joseph Proudhon and Karl Marx from time to time. After Marx denounced a friend of Bakunin’s in March of 1848, Bakunin instigated a split with Marx. In June of that year, Bakunin attended the Slav Congress and joined riots in Prague. Soon after, Bakunin was also expelled from Saxony and Prussia; so he proceeded to a principality, Anhalt.
Then Bakunin relocated to Dresden, Poland where he was hailed as a hero of the people after leading a popular uprising there in early 1849. As punishment for his participation in that uprising, Bakunin was sentenced to die; six months later, his sentence was commuted to life in prison. In March of 1851, Bakunin was returned to the Russian government and made a confession to Tsar Nicholas I later that year. In that confession, Michael Bakunin said, “There was in my character a radical defect; Love for the fantastic, for out-of-the-way, unheard of adventure, for undertakings which open up an infinite horizon and whose end no man can foresee”(Carr 3). That radical aspect of Bakunin’s character served to secure his place in history.
Six years after Bakunin’s confession, Tsar Alexander showed some mercy to Bakunin and commuted his prison sentence to a lifetime of exile in Siberia. Bakunin finally married in October of 1858 to Antonia Kwiatkowski. After four years in Siberia Bakunin hatched a plan to escape. His escape attempt was successful. After a long voyage aboard merchant ships, he got to London on December 27. In 1866, Bakunin founded International Brotherhood for revolutionary “socialists” such as himself; two years later, Bakunin founded the International Alliance for Social Democracy. Fleeing from yet another arrest warrant in 1870, Bakunin took shelter in Marseilles. Bakunin wrote one of his more noted works, “God and the State” around this time. In 1873, Bakunin decided that his revolutionary days were at an end and took an early retirement at age fifty-nine.
Less than three years after his respite began, Bakunin died.
Major works of Michael Bakuning
– God and the State. London: Freedom Press, 1910
– The Political Philosophy of Bakunin, edited by G. P. Maximoff. New York: Free Press, 1953
– Selected Writings, edited by Arthur Lehning. New York: Grove Press, 1974