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Bakunin as a French Secret Agent in 1848

Branded as a Tsarist agent by Marx, Mikhail Bakunin was in fact trying to foment revolution throughout Europe, argues James G. Chastain.

The revolution of 1848 came as the fulfilment of a long anticipated dream for Mikhail Bakunin. He spent that year suspended between spiritual intoxication and inexpressible depression as he reacted to the shifting fortunes of revolutionary conflict. His rude awakening came on July 6th, 1848, when Karl Marx branded the Russian aristocratic anarchist as an agent of the Tsar. But Marx was wrong. Bakunin's actual employer was the Provisional Government of revolutionary France, which he served as propagandist and as militant in their joint struggle to liberate captive peoples and thereby to overthrow the Tsar.

Upon hearing the news of the February revolution in Paris, Bakunin immediately left for the French capital with an acquaintance's passport to spend a month in a state of 'spiritual intoxication'. During the first two weeks of March, 1848, Bakunin saw revolts topple two of the three anti-French northern courts, those of Berlin and Vienna, leaving Tsar Nicholas at St. Petersburg isolated. A united mass of vociferous Germans and disgruntled Poles called for national unification of each of these peoples in a common war against Russia. Bakunin's delirium mounted with each fresh report of street battles in central Europe.

The Provisional Government that he found in Paris was the first cabinet in modern history to include socialists. Frederick Engels, rubbing shoulders with Bakunin in Paris, described the new French cabinet as dominated by ultraradicals, led by Ledru-Rollin, who were 'communist without knowing'.

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