Bakunin and Nechaev - Paul Avrich

Bakunin and Nechaev
Bakunin and Nechaev

Short work by Paul Avrich discussing the relationship between Mikhail Bakunin and the Russian revolutionary Sergey Nechaev, who played a role in the expulsion of Bakunin from the IWA.

Submitted by adri on March 26, 2022


I. Nechaev and Russian Jacobinism
II. The Catechism of the Revolutionary
III. The Ivanov Affair
IV. The Falling-Out
V. Prisons
VI. Conclusion

As Avrich notes, Nechaev's threatening letter (unknown to Bakunin) to Liubavin, to get Bakunin out of a contract in which money was advanced to him for translating Marx's Capital, would play a major role in the expulsion of Bakunin from the IWA, as well as Bakunin's later break with Nechaev. A transcript of Nechaev's letter to Liubavin, as it appears in The Hague Congress of the First International, September 2-7, 1872: Minutes and Documents, is produced below:

Bureau of Foreign Agents of The People's Judgement Society to Lyubavin

To the Russian student Lyubavin, resident in Heidelberg*

Dear Sir,

On the instructions of the Bureau I have the honour to inform you of the following:

We have received from Russia from the Committee a paper which, incidentally, concerns you. Here are the passages which refer to you:

"It has come to the knowledge of the Committee that some of the young Russian gentlemen resident abroad, liberal dilettantes, are beginning to exploit the forces and knowledge of people of a certain trend, profiting by their straitened situation. Precious personalities, burdened with unskilled labour by dilettante kulaks, are deprived of the possibility to work for the emancipation of mankind. Among others, a certain Lyubavin (c/o Widow Wald, 16 Fandgasse, Heidelberg) recruited the well-known Bakunin to work on a translation of a book by Marx and, like a true bourgeois kulak, profiting by his desperate financial situation, paid him an advance and, on the strength of it, made him undertake not to abandon the work before it was finished. Thus, thanks to this young gentleman Lyubavin who uses others to show his zeal for Russian enlightenment, Bakunin is deprived of the possibility to take part in the genuine, urgent cause of the Russian people, his participation in which is indispensable.... It is obvious to anybody who is not a scoundrel how abominable, bourgeois and immoral such an attitude of Lyubavin and his like to the cause of the people's emancipation and those who work for it is, and how little it differs from the tricks of the police....

"The Committee instructs the Foreign Bureau to declare to Lyubavin:

"1) that if he and parasites like him consider a translation of Marx useful to Russia at the present time, let them devote their own precious efforts to it instead of studying chemistry and preparing for themselves a lucrative situation as professor at the public expense.

"2) that he (Lyubavin) should immediately inform Bakunin that he frees him from all moral obligation to continue the translation in consequence of the Russian revolutionary Committee's demand."

Then follow points which we consider premature to inform you of, relying in part on your perspicacity and prudence.

So, dear Sir, fully assured that you, understanding with whom you are dealing, will be so obliging as to free us from the regrettable necessity to address ourselves to you a second time by less civilized means.

We suggest to you:

1) Immediately on receipt of this message to telegraph Bakunin that you release him from the moral obligation to continue the translation.

2) Immediately to send him a detailed letter enclosing this document and the envelope in which you have received it.

3) Immediately to send a letter to our nearest agents (if only at the Geneva address you know) in which you will inform them that you have received the Bureau's suggestion No. so-and-so and carried it out.

Strictly punctilious in our relations with others, we have reckoned the day on which you will receive this letter; we suggest that in your turn you be no less punctilious and do not delay carrying it out so as not to force us to resort to extraordinary and therefore somewhat rough measures.

We make bold to assure you, dear Sir, that our attention to you and your actions will henceforth be far more correct.

And it depends on you yourself that our friendly relations should grow stronger, and should not be changed into inimical ones.

I have the honour to be, dear Sir, your devoted servant

Secretary of the Bureau of Agents

Read out at the sitting of the investigation commission on September 6, 1872

Translated from the Russian original

* This letter is written on paper bearing the stamp: Bureau of foreign agents of the Russian revolutionary society The People's Judgement. Above the text of the letter on the left is the date: 25/13 February 1870, and on the right: No. 73.—Ed.