Bakunin: God and the State

Discussion thread for the book club's first text.

From wiki:
"God and the State (called by its author The Historical Sophisms of the Doctrinaire School of Communism) is an unfinished manuscript by the Russian anarchist philosopher Mikhail Bakunin, published posthumously in 1882. The work criticises Christianity and the then-burgeoning technocracy movement from a materialist, anarchist and individualist perspective."

Links to the text:
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There's another translation from 1970 out there on libcom, but the one you posted is regarded as better by most people I've talked to. I have only read the version you posted, so I can't comment on this, but I think for this and future iterations of the book club we should try to read the same edition/translation of the text. For anons who are interested or don't have time to read but have time to listen at work, libcom has an audiobook version:

very nice!

I've started reading but I have questions:

Why does Bakunin criticize idealists for being wrong, but later says that idealism results only in brutal materialism? Is he defending a materialist philosophy or not?

What did he mean?

My other questions are: What was the point of this work? Bakunin mentions science a lot, and also writes about how class society and hierarchy is bad, but what was he proposing?

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I'll respond more in depth when I get home but
It was the second half of a work published after Bakunin's death. Outside of the context of part 1, it exists as an analysis/critique of the role religion in maintaining the state.

Hail Satan

Time to check your privilege, shitlords

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I liked this bit:

If my acedemic career taught me anything, it is that there is nothing so regressive as a group of like-minded experts with a bit of power.

So bakunin is saying that we should rely on experts, but not give them political power?

Yeah, I have real issues with how he frames this. It gives "anarchists" a lot of ammo to talk about "legitimate hierarchies." He's not describing actual authority in the sense of one person having power over another (hierarchy) but trusting his own judgment and availing himself of the opinions of people he judges to know more than he does. Those are two very different things. The full quote makes it clearer:
>In the matter of boots, I refer to the authority of the bootmaker; concerning houses, canals, or railroads, I consult that of the architect or engineer. For such or such special knowledge I apply to such or such a savant. But I allow neither the bootmaker nor the architect nor the savant to impose his authority upon me. I listen to them freely and with all the respect merited by their intelligence, their character, their knowledge, reserving always my incontestable right of criticism censure. I do not content myself with consulting authority in any special branch; I consult several; I compare their opinions, and choose that which seems to me the soundest. But I recognize no infallible authority, even in special questions; consequently, whatever respect I may have for the honesty and the sincerity of such or such an individual, I have no absolute faith in any person. Such a faith would be fatal to my reason, to my liberty, and even to the success of my undertakings; it would immediately transform me into a stupid slave, an instrument of the will and interests of others.
It takes either reading just the first sentence of each paragraph or willfully misreading that quote to use it the way that some "anarchists" do.

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Basically, the problem here is in that context Bakunin (or more likely the translator) is flipping between both the technical use of "authority" as "systemic power" and the common use as "an expert on the subject."

It's really a pity that this manuscript was never finished because Bakunin does have some interesting arguments and there does appear to be a logic behind his thinking, but it's not made very coherent.

He talks about:
God (as an authority imposing itself on man)
Religion (as an authority using God as an excuse to impose its authority on man)
Science (as a replacement for religion that could impose its own authority)

Reminds me a lot of Thomas Paine.

The point of that whole section is to highlight this difference in meanings of authority (political power renown, esteem). Right wingers deliberately blur the line between the two. I don't think Bakunin is unclear there, although keep in mind that it is based on a draft.

You might want to read this:

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And of course the same is true with "hierarchy", people will say experts, apprentices, hobbyists, etc. form a hierarchy of expertise and will use this to justify domination. So in this regard there is "hierarchy" that could be called "legitimate".

I don't have an issue with his anti-state rhetoric and communal stuff, I have an issue with his anti-clericalism

besides Judaism, I must add

He seems to have an almost Weberian conception of the collective spirit of civilizations. I wonder how different Bakunin's theory would have been with access to modern anthropology and archaeology.

He specifically repudiates Auguste Comte and isn't really talking about collective spirit at all. Considering his strict materialism, I'm not too sure this is a fair assessment. Maybe you're picking up on the pervasive Hegelian dialectics he seems to be employing?

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No, check the bit about Classical Greece and Rome and the comparison between contemporary Italy and Germany. As for dialectics, he places Hegel squarely in the camp of illustrious but misguided idealists, so I am not sure that he is quite as enamored with dialectical reasoning as Marx was.

Right, but that's closer to diamat than Weber. Weber was an idealist Kantian who did not believe in monocausal determinism or that civilization was even comprehensible in a scientifically rigorous way.

Yes, and he repudiates Hegelian idealism in the way as Marx does, but the repeated appeal to negation of a phenomenon as the basis for the phenomenon is pure Hegelian dialectics.

Oooo, a book club! What will you lads read next? Some Lenin stuff?

Oh no, he's perfectly clear when taken in context. The problem is that he's using the same word to refer to what are really two different things, and when taken out of context (by just quoting that one bit like this post here) it sounds like he's saying something very different from what he is. I can't tell you how often I've heard "anarchists" quote that sentence when someone asks if they're really against hierarchy/authority, and they typically go on to endorse exactly what Bakunin warned about in this passage

Nice try, but Zig Forums is a ChristCom board.

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Okay, but how are people supposed to organize society under anarchism? If the state is a corrupting influence on society, then does Bakunin have a plan to abolish the state? How would it work?

The gist of any anarchist theory is that you build anarchy while state still exist and either the states fail on their own or the anarchic society/societies smash the state. Beyond that it depends on the specific kind of anarchy.

That's going to vary wildly given conditions people find themselves in. The commonalities would be means of production being held in common (ie socialism) and the lack of any structures able to exercise authority (ie abolishment of hierarchy). This does not entail not defending ourselves or going on the offensive, nor does it imply that such a situation is an overnight affair.
Social Revolution. Given that Bakunin died over a century ago, his thoughts on a specific path for revolution are likely not applicable in the conditions of today, but here's a poorly translated and edited summary of his thoughts concerning insurrection. If we were to follow Bakunin's line of thinking revolution would require much work organizing within our class with the intention of violently revolting against capital, it's best not to discuss the specifics too candidly so the feds don't get us on some trumped up charges.

Anarchism put emphasis on the process rather than on the result, due to the fact that it's more of a movement "against" than a movement "for" something. There isn't a single possible anarchist utopia, but nonetheless a lot of anarchists have imagined what a society without authority could look like, without going into fine technical details. Decentralization, an economy based on needs, small-scale life, consensus-based decisions, collaboration over competition would be key features of such societies.

Almost done, going to be finished tomorrow and post my thoughts Saturday. So far my conclusion is similar to in that it's a tragedy the work wasn't completed or survived in it's entirety because a lot if it is relevant to our current situation.

I find it interesting to read a section, then listen to the audiobook portion a few hours later or the next day when I'm at work. They're not too long so if you anons can do it at your job I'd recommend it between whatever music or podcasts you listen to.

It's been a while since I've read this, but after rereading it for this group I've found that Bakunin's claims regarding "Science" replacing "God" have materialized in the form of "experts" of varying fields that we must defer to their greater knowledge and how such "experts" coincidentally use their positions to claim the system that favors them is actually good. While most socialists obviously don't take the capitalist pundits and such to be worthwhile, we have our own "experts" who operate in a similar manner within organizations to similar results, such as the various Marxist parties declaring their interpretation of Capital is the correct line and everyone else is undialectial revisionists who will be shot in the revolution. The result of these experts exercising their authority has been a stagnation of the movement to pursue tactics decided upon decades ago that have only resulted in some membership fees going to the org's coffers. I was already an anarchist, but god damn if this didn't reinforce my opposition of hierarchy.

This shit is actually worse in anarchist circles sometimes. People forget that the anti-authoritarian principles behind the ideology aren't just about how you want society to be set up, but they apply to basic interpersonal interaction as well. The structure of the organization and your ideology's epistemology should be anarchic too if you claim to be anarchist (or should pull from the people if you claim to be socialist).

No doubt, I just used Marxist parties as an example because they're more visible. I think covered it pretty well when he talked about how some so-called anarchists will defend "legitimate" hierarchy instead of recognizing that hierarchy primarily benefits those on top and that if their interests are not aligned with the rest well too bad for the niggas on the bottom. Class is obviously the best expression of hierarchy in our present conditions, but as we can see where it exists it tends to play out the same, like leaders in socialist orgs more concerned with getting themselves and friends spots at a convention than they are having an impact on proletarian organization or abolishing the present state of things.

I have a few formal complaints about how implicitly Hegelian the analysis is. Besides that, Bakunin completely ignores the historical fact of revolutionary potential within early religious movements. Finally, I'm a little skeptical of how far he goes in his argument against technocracy. I wouldn't rather do without the body of science than to have technocratic hierarchy. I see the point of savantism leading to entrenchment of knowledge among a priviledged caste, but those are the brakes when the structure of the material world only becomes apparent with hyperspecialized academic inquiry that takes decades to learn and perform. Citizen science is good and important, but it cannot replace sound methodology.
Similarly, I find that the Dunning-Kruger effect points to the opposite conclusion of degrees destroying the appetite for inquiry. It is usually the ignorant and uneducated who do tend to believe themselves beyond error and above inquiry.
The claims that science demonstrates the irrefutable proof of elimative materialism and that metaphysical idealism is fundamentally the same as religious zealotry are both misguided examples sophomoric sophistry that he doesn't even bother to bolster with any argument in the former and shallow analogy in the latter.
I also found the comparison of essentiality of organic societies in the ancient world as exemplars of materialism and idealism to a rather weak and incoherent point.

There's some good stuff here too of course.

Doesn't this really depend on just how thoroughly technocracy manages to corrupt science? It's not hard to envision a system that produces such junk as to be unusable other than as propaganda for the system itself. Just for instance think about the theoretical conflict between Darwinism and Lysenkoism. Science as it is now tends to have that problem - ego getting in the way of finding the best theories. It can take longer than just asserting the evidence for better theories to gain traction because so many scientists have built their life work on a set of assumptions they're not prepared to jettison (and may be practically unable to pivot thus threatening the future of their career). This would only get worse if the institution of science were also the seat of power in society.
It's not the possession of specialist knowledge, but the formality of the degree itself that's the problem. Ds get degrees. The lowest passing student in med school is still a doctor. When your big brain is sanctified by society it definitely can give people an air of superiority.

I agree with your other criticisms though.

Poll for the next book

Archive of God and the State thread:

It was, but I would blame the lack of a proper anthropological discipline in his lifetime for the false assumption.

This reading group confirmed for uberageb&. It's a pamphlet that everyone should have read/skimmed through. It's literally 10 pages long, if that.

Very few people read anything, most just copy how their ideology talks about texts and emulates that while pretending to theory wizards. Anyways Capitalist Realism is tied, hopefully some more anons come in and vote so we don't have to do a tiebreaker on Saturday.

speak for yourself

Most of these texts are worth reading multiple times IMO, especially that one since you can cite it to liberals to explain why people like Jordan Peterson don't know what "Marxism" is.

If citizen science has what it takes to be called science at all, its methodology will be no less sound than that of academia. Considering the current corruption of academia by political interests, it will likely be much more reliable. Academia is one of the biggest cancers in modern society and it's long past time for people to realize this.

Academia is anti-intellectual.
Uphold proletarian science!