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I own a copy of the card game Burn In Hell by Steve Jackson Games. There is a card in the game for the anarchist Mikhail Bakunin. He is caricatured with one eye shut, bearing resemblance to portraits I have found online, but with gritted teeth and a fuse on top of his head, as if his entire head is a fuse bomb. The card classifies him as a "Murderer"; other cards with that classification include John Wilkes Booth and Agrippina Minor. The card also attributes "Wrath" (of the seven deadly sins) to Bakunin.

The brief biography on the reverse of the card makes a claim that gave me a chuckle:

Bakunin called for the abolition of all state structures, even anarchist structures -- some believe he even bombed anarchist meetings out of a feeling that anarchists shouldn't have meetings.

This is the only explicit claim in the bio on the card that he bombed or murdered anyone.

For context, the rest of the card's bio seems to check out. For copyright reasons I'd rather not post the complete text, but it mentions his military service early in life, some details of his involvement in various insurrections in nineteenth century Europe which I was able to verify, and quoted him in verbatim agreement with this source:

Let us put our trust in the eternal spirit which destroys and annihilates only because it is the unsearchable and eternally creative source of all life.

So the question is simply: Is the claim that Mikhail Bakunin is a "Murderer" guilty of "Wrath" true or arguably true? And was Bakunin ever involved in any bombing, either of an anarchist meeting specifically or of anyone generally?

And if the claim is false, can its origin be traced to any source contemporary to his time (perhaps from those who opposed his ideas)?

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    This might be of interest - theanarchistlibrary.org/authors/michail-bakunin A collection of his writings. The website is really good if you want to learn about Anarchism. I am not going to bother here but the stereotype of Bomb-Throwing Anarchists is misleading, inaccurate and inadequate. – The very fluffy Panda Apr 5 '15 at 11:11
  • I mention this just as a cautionary note. Anarchism is just a set of political philosophies, and how individuals associate with it can be quite varied and different. Take the example of Noam Chomsky, he is more or less sympathetic to Anarchism, that is, he identifies with it. chomsky.info/books/state01.htm Also, the quote "Let us....all life" I think is not concrete enough to draw any inspiration for violent action. It can be used in various contexts. – The very fluffy Panda Apr 5 '15 at 11:20
  • About the stereotype tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/BombThrowingAnarchists (TV Tropes) and theanarchistlibrary.org/library/… (What is Anarchism?) – The very fluffy Panda Apr 5 '15 at 11:53
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    Long question, maybe you can shorten it to make it interesting to read. – George Chalhoub Apr 5 '15 at 12:21
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    @PandaBear I grant you, on its face it sure looks like slander. (That's why I brought the question!) Character assassination is effective and has plenty of precedent. history.stackexchange.com/q/8661 But on the other hand, has Noam Chomsky "fought" or even been "an enthusiastic partisan" in any attempts to overthrow established governments? The question remains, if it is slander, then what did Bakunin do during these "abortive revolutions" his biographers mention so often? – wberry Apr 5 '15 at 12:43
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Here is the result of my own research into the question. In summary, I failed to find any materials online to substantiate the claim that Mikhail Bakunin was a murderer or that he bombed anarchists, or bombed anyone at all. However, I also found a conspicuous absence of information on what he did during his involvement in various uprisings in Europe in the 1840s and afterwards. If not for the political and philosophical implications, I might conclude the claim is false presumptively; but there is an apparent conflict of interest at play that gives me pause.

I would conclude the claim is false if I were to find any of these, but I have found none so far:

  • A sympathetic or neutral source on Bakunin that documents fine-grained details of his participation in the uprisings and "abortive revolutions" of the 1840s, that does not include any murders or bombings
  • A critical source on Bakunin that criticizes others for their participation in leftist violent uprisings, but criticizes Bakunin only for his ideas
  • Documentation of past, publicized claims against Bakunin, contemporary to his time or shortly afterwards, in which he was accused of murder or bombings, that were later debunked

The use of "some believe" in the claim is clearly suspicious, though perhaps forgivable if the claim is in fact true; after all it is just a card game. But I hesitate to dismiss the claim out of hand for two main reasons.

First, the rest of the card's bio seems to check out, as documented in the question. Even the first part of the questionable claim (that he "called for the abolition of all state structures") seems to be justified by discussions I found of his philosophical differences with Karl Marx (see "Marx" section) and his other contemporaries.

Secondly, and crucially, I found little discussion of what Bakunin did other than write and talk about these issues during his life. And yet, according to this source:

Bakunin ... saw himself primarily as a man of action, although his action was rarely successful and his life was punctuated by abortive revolutions.

The most specific information I can find on his actions is from the same source:

The years of the revolutions in Europe -- 1848-1849 -- were the most dramatic period of Bakunin's life. He was an enthusiastic partisan of the uprising in France; later in 1848 he fought on the barricades of Prague, and in March 1849, he took a leading part, with Richard Wagner, in the Dresden revolution. He was captured there and, after periods in Saxon and Austrian prisons and twice being sentenced to death and reprieved, he was handed over to the Russian authorities, who imprisoned him in the Peter and Paul Fortress. Six years there ruined his health. In 1857 he was sent to exile in Siberia, and in 1861 he escaped, via Japan and the United States, to western Europe.

So he "was an enthusiastic partisan" in one uprising, "fought" in another and "took a leading part" in another. This leaves me to wonder, what does that mean exactly? It's noteworthy enough to draw multiple death sentences and hard labor in exile, and mention in multiple modern biographical articles, and yet completely non-specific in the online record as far as I can discover. It's weird.

In comparison, many specific details of Bakunin's social contacts are documented from the same period. Including this fawning commentary from Wikipedia on the final stages of his impressive escape from Siberia to western Europe:

In Boston, Bakunin visited Karol Forster, a partisan of Ludwik Mieroslawski during the 1848 Revolution in Paris, and caught up with other "Forty-Eighters", veterans of the 1848 revolutions in Europe, such as Friedrich Kapp. He then sailed for Liverpool arriving on December 27. Bakunin immediately went to London to see Herzen. That evening he burst into the drawing-room where the family was having supper. "What! Are you sitting down eating oysters! Well! Tell me the news. What is happening, and where?!"

To see what I was hoping to find, many specific details of Fidel Castro's invasion of Cuba are documented, including certain of Che Guevara's specific actions in the heat of battle. Had I found similar fine-grained details of Bakunin's exploits, I could more easily conclude that the claim by Steve Jackson Games is false.

But with this gap, the claim amounts to an unsubstantiated rumor on which the historical/biographical data I can find is fascinatingly silent. Despite the description of Bakunin as a "man of action" who believes that destruction is a force of creation, and despite many allusions to his involvement in multiple insurrections, there seems to be a glaring omission in online materials of what exactly his actions were.

I should say that all of the sources I have considered for biographical and literary study of Bakunin are either neutral or sympathetic: Wikipedia, academic-looking sites, and (apparently) socialism or anarchism sites. I have not found any information on Bakunin that takes a critical or contrary viewpoint of his writings or deeds. Even finding a website highly critical of Bakunin's ideas, and that criticizes the deeds of Che Guevara and other leftists, but does not mention Bakunin being a murderer or bomber, would probably convince me the claim is false. But I have found nothing like this either.

Could it be that those who might devote time and resources to documenting the written works and biography of Bakunin online might also choose to omit certain acts on his part that might today be viewed disapprovingly? Is there only oral tradition, and no documentary source, remaining of Bakunin's acts which somehow found its way onto this card? Or did Steve Jackson Games simply invent this murderer/bomber description of Bakunin out of whole cloth?

Right now, I'm not really sure which to be more skeptical of: the game card, or the treatment of Bakunin in online sources in a strictly respectful and academic tone, lacking fine-grained details of his actions during the various civil unrests he participated in.

  • There is just TOO MUCH information to go through. I think it's best to break up the the question. How about just focusing on en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/May_Uprising_in_Dresden ? Now we can check whether aggressive or violent tactics were employed. – The very fluffy Panda Apr 6 '15 at 21:06
  • The task one has to undertake, seems to me, quite daunting. I can't be bothered. According to your links and other links I have found, these authors have been mentioned quite a few times 1) E.H. Carr 2) Sam Dolgoff 3) J. Guillaume (was a contemporary) There are obvioulsy others. Their books can be easily found online, both legally and illegally. You can also go through their sources, but I think that most of the primary sources are not in English. So it's best to focus, as mentioned above, on a very specific claim. – The very fluffy Panda Apr 6 '15 at 21:31
  • Note: "James Guillaume, Bakunin’s friend and comrade-in-arms, edited the last five volumes of the six-volume French edition of his collected works. Guillaume’s biographical sketch of Bakunin, originally appeared in his introduction to Volume II of that edition." (marxists.org/reference/archive/guillaume/works/bakunin.htm) So not opposed to his ideas. – The very fluffy Panda Apr 6 '15 at 21:40
  • P.S. You don't have to focus on Dresden, you can focus on some other significant event in his life, here is a chronology dwardmac.pitzer.edu/Anarchist_Archives/bakunin/… – The very fluffy Panda Apr 6 '15 at 21:50
  • P.P.S. As you already know, Marx was very much opposed to Bakunin (philosophical differences) and was a contemporary. In the link before the link above (which I think is a good starting point) Guillame mentions this paragraph from Revolutions and Counter-Revolution in Germany by Marx (Easily found online) (cont) – The very fluffy Panda Apr 6 '15 at 21:59

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