Introduction - Sam Dolgoff

Submitted by GrouchoMarxist on June 21, 2012

The overall theme of The Program of the Alliance is the relationship between the conscious revolutionary vanguard, Bakunin’s Alliance, and the working masses in and out of the International whom it is trying to influence in a revolutionary direction, how to organize the unorganized and how to radicalize them when they are organized is the main theme though Bakunin digresses to other matters not strictly related to it. Since the text deals with different subjects, it has for the sake of clarity been divided into three sections (our subtitles).

The Program of the Alliance opens with a discussion of union bureaucracy, a description of how the executive committees elected by the sections of rank-and-file local unions tend to become transformed from being the intended agents to the masters of the membership. He stresses that no organization, however free, can long withstand the lethargy and indifference of the membership without degenerating into some form of dictatorship.

Bakunin’s “Fabrica sections” were composed of native citizens, the highly skilled, better-paid watchmakers and jewellry workers, most of whom favored parliamentary action and class collaboration. The construction and other heavy manual workers, mostly unskilled, low-paid foreigners, favored direct economic action. Not being allowed to vote, they were naturally not interested in parliamentary action. Their disenfranchisement, and the indignities they suffered, often on the part of the snobbish Fabrica workers, engaged the support of Bakunin and the Swiss libertarian sections of the International.

The second section deals with the internal organization of the International. The so-called central sections referred to are the ideological-activist vanguard groups animating the organization of the masses. In discussing the connection between this revolutionary minority and the general membership of the International, Bakunin deals with the structure and the internal problems of the International and its ultimate objectives. The vast mass of the workers were quite unorganized and only a tiny fraction of the organized minority were affiliated with the International.

In the third section here, Bakunin anticipates the objection that his recommendations would make the International a miniature replica of the State. As so often elsewhere, Bakunin stresses the need for an organized revolutionary minority to guard against the usurpation of power. He insists that such a minority is not the same as the governing oligarchy of the State, and defines the essential differences between libertarian organization and state organization. Transcending the labor question as such, he goes on into a fruitful digression on the relationship of the individual to society and the nature of society and the State. Centralization and decentralization, the monopoly of power and the diffusion of power among the many units of society and the individuals who compose it, is a recurrent theme.