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The Cynosure

  Michael Bakunin
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Monstrosity! Perhaps that word will serve as well as any other to explain the shadow that Bakunin cast across the field of the nineteenth century European politics. It is a worthy portrait of, and a fitting epitaph for, the man who was, throughout his life, the victim of his own thoroughness.


Tourgenieff once invented a Nihilist hero named Bazaroff. This character lives in Socialist literature because of his propagandist reply to the usual skeptical question: Do you imagine that you influence the masses? Bazaroff answered: "A half-penny tallow dip sufficed to set all Moscow in a blaze." Herzen's nativity associates his name with the immortal flames thus humbly originated. He is the lighted tallow dip which began the mighty Russian conflagration which yet threatens to consume the whole of Capitalist Society. Even as the flames spread, Herzen spluttered and went out. Before succumbing to reaction, he set fire to a rare torch in Bakunin. His great disciple was destined to light the beacon fires of revolution throughout the world. For many years Bakunin's activities may have seemed to have been so much smoke. To-day we know they were smouldering fires. The last has not been heard of his world influence. Bakunin began his mission in 1841. He proceeded to Berlin to continue the studies commenced at Moscow. He was now a Red among Reds. Philosopher, Socialist, Rebel, he left Russia for the first time. The following ear he removed from Berlin to Dresden in order to gain a nearer acquaintance with Arnold Rouge, the foremost Hegelian of the lft. Bakunin was anxious to proclaim his sympathy with Rouge, and his definite rupture with conservatism. To this end, he published his first revolutionary essay, entitled "The Reaction in Germany," in Rouge's Jahrbucher for 1842, Nos. 247-51. He used the nom-de-plume of Jules Elizard and had Rouge pretend it was a "Fragment by a Frenchman." From this time on, French prejudices were to mar his work, as formerly, his German ones had confined his understanding. The hindrance of radical idealism was fatal to the genius of the nineteenth century. It limited Marx as well as Bakunin.

"Jules Elizard" entered an uncompromising plea for revolution and Nihilism. The principle of revolution, he declared is the principle of negation, the everlasting spirit of destruction and annihilation that is the fathomless and ever-creating fountain of all life. It is the spirit of intelligence, the ever young, the ever new born, that is not to be looked for among the ruins of the past. The champions of this principle are something more than the mere negative party, the uncompromising enemies of the positive; for the latter exists


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