Bakunin’s Prediction: A Quick History on Using the “People’s Stick”

According to Chomsky, there exists a prediction from the world of the social sciences that ever came so dramatically true. The prediction is from Mikhail Bakunin, everyone’s favorite Anarchist 🙂

Very perceptively, Bakunin predicted that the rising class of intellectuals in both liberal democracies and authoritarian states will come to identify themselves as a specialized “Class” in modern industrial societies and that this class would essentially go in one of two directions:

  1. Some in this intellectual class would believe that the struggles of the working class would offer them an opportunity to ascend to the top of society and take State power into their own ranks. Bakunin predicted that this intellectual class would establish a “Red Republic” and create the worst tyranny that humanity has ever known, of course, all in the interest of the workers.
  2. Other members of the intellectual class would recognize that the way to power is to associate oneself with state capitalism and become the servants of its ruling class. These men would become the managers, ideologists, and so on for the State. Bakunin argued that this class would beat the people with something called “people’s stick”.

Chomsky agrees with Bakunin as he had predicted the Bolshevik Revolution almost 50 years before it happened, from its very precise steps to its ideological background, as well as the century that followed.

More importantly, Bakunin also predicted what would happen in the modern, capitalist and industrialized societies of the West which would be ruled by an “intelligent minority”.

Please ready Democracy and Propaganda: A Timeline of Thoughts from Responsible Men

For example:

John Dewey wrote an essay titled Internal Social Reorganization After The War (1918):

The real question with us will be one of effectively discerning whether the intelligent men of the community really want to bring about a better reorganized social order.

Walter Lippmann wrote in The Phantom Public (1925):

These critics have seen that the important decisions were taken by individuals, and that public opinion was uninformed, irrelevant and meddlesome. They have usually concluded that there was a congenital difference between the masterful few and the ignorant many.

The outsider is necessarily ignorant, usually irrelevant and often meddlesome, because he is trying to navigate the ship from dry land.

A false ideal of democracy can lead only to disillusionment and to meddlesome tyranny.

The public must be put in its place, so that it may exercise its own powers, but no less and perhaps even more, so that each of us may live free of the trampling and roar of the bewildered herd.

Edward Bernays wrote in Propaganda (1928):

The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate the unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country.

Ours must be a leadership democracy administered by the intelligent minority who know how to regiment and guide the masses. Is this government by propaganda? Call it, if you prefer, government by education.

Thomas Bailey wrote in The Man in the Street: the Impact of American Public Opinion on Foreign Policy (1948):

In a dictatorship, the masses must be deceived; in a democracy, they must be educated.

Because the masses are notoriously short-sighted, and generally cannot see danger until it is at their throats, our statesmen are forced to deceive them into an awareness of their own long-run interests. Deception of the people may in fact become increasingly necessary, unless we are willing to give our leader in Washington a freer hand.

Etc, Etc

Let’s take a look at what Bakunin wrote in Statism and Anarchy (1873):

Pg. 13:

Representative democracy, however, harmonizes marvelously with the capitalist economic system. This new statist system, basing itself on the alleged sovereignty of the so-called will of the people, as supposedly expressed by their alleged representatives in mock popular assemblies, incorporates the two principal and necessary conditions for the progress of capitalism: state centralization, and the actual submission of the sovereign people to the intellectual governing minority, who, while claiming to represent the people, unfailingly exploits them.

Pg. 23-24

The fundamental difference between a monarchy and even the most democratic republic is that in the monarchy, the bureaucrats oppress and rob the people for the benefit of the privileged in the name of the King, and to fill their own coffers; while in the republic the people are robbed and oppressed in the same way for the benefit of the same classes, in the name of “the will of the people” (and to fill the coffers of the democratic bureaucrats). In the republic the State, which is supposed to be the people, legally organized, stifles and will continue to stifle the real people. But the people will feel no better if the stick with which they are being beaten is labeled “the people’s stick.”

… No state, however democratic — not even the reddest republic — can ever give the people what they really want, i.e., the free self-organization and administration of their own affairs from the bottom upward, without any interference or violence from above, because every state, even the pseudo-People’s State concocted by Mr. Marx, is in essence only a machine ruling the masses from above, through a privileged minority of conceited intellectuals, who imagine that they know what the people need and want better than do the people themselves.

Pg. 136-137

Idealists of all kinds — metaphysicians, positivists, those who support the rule of science over life, doctrinaire revolutionists — all defend the idea of state and state power with equal eloquence, because they see in it, as a consequence of their own systems, the only salvation for society. Quite logically, since they have accepted the basic premise (which we consider completely mistaken) that thought precedes life, that theory is prior to social experience, and, therefore, that social science has to be the starting point for all social upheavals and reconstructions. They then arrive unavoidably at the conclusion that because thought, theory, and science, at least in our times, are in the possession of very few, these few ought to be the leaders of social life, not only the initiators, but also the leaders of all popular movements. On the day following the revolution the new social order should not be organized by the free association of people’s organizations or unions, local and regional, from the bottom up, in accordance with the demands and instincts of the people, but only by the dictatorial power of this learned minority, which presumes to express the will of the people.

The differences between revolutionary dictatorship and statism are superficial. Fundamentally they both represent the same principle of minority rule over the majority in the name of the alleged “stupidity” of the latter and the alleged “intelligence” of the former. Therefore they are both equally reactionary since both directly and inevitably must preserve and perpetuate the political and economic privileges of the ruling minority and the political and economic subjugation of the masses of the people.

Pg. 178-179

The Marxist theory solves this dilemma very simply. By the people’s rule, they mean the rule of a small number of representatives elected by the people. The general, and every man’s, right to elect the representatives of the people and the rulers of the State is the latest word of the Marxists, as well as of the democrats. This is a lie, behind which lurks the despotism of the ruling minority, a lie all the more dangerous in that it appears to express the so-called will of the people.

Ultimately, from whatever point of view we look at this question, we come always to the same sad conclusion, the rule of the great masses of the people by a privileged minority.

This fiction of a pseudo-representative government serves to conceal the domination of the masses by a handful of privileged elite; an elite elected by hordes of people who are rounded up and do not know for whom or for what they vote. Upon this artificial and abstract expression of what they falsely imagine to be the will of the people and of which the real living people have not the least idea, they construct both the theory of statism as well as the theory of so-called revolutionary dictatorship.

The “uneducated” people will be totally relieved of the cares of administration, and will be treated as a regimented herd. A beautiful liberation, indeed!

Pg. 181

But according to Mr. Marx, the people not only should not abolish the State, but, on the contrary, they must strengthen and enlarge it. and turn it over to the full disposition of their benefactors, guardians, and teachers — the leaders of the Communist party, meaning Mr. Marx and his friends — who will then liberate them in their own way. They will concentrate all administrative power in their own strong hands, because the ignorant people are in need of a strong guardianship; and they will create a central state bank, which will also control all the commerce, industry, agriculture, and even science. The mass of the people will be divided into two armies, the agricultural and the industrial, under the direct command of the state engineers, who will constitute the new privileged political-scientific class.

Bakunin has to win a prize for the most accurate prediction in the social sciences, ever!

Thanks for reading,


Statism and Anarchy (1873) 

4 responses to “Bakunin’s Prediction: A Quick History on Using the “People’s Stick””

  1. None of the foregoing quotes from Bakunin employs Chomsky’s phrase, “Red Bureaucracy.” I have searched a couple of bulky Bakunin source books translated into English and could not find the phrase. Either Chomsky is making it up or I have missed something. Can you please supply the exact reference?

    1. Hi Jerry. Happy to help. I have the Cambridge University edition of “Statism and Anarchy” translated by Marshall Shatz. Chomsky may be sourcing a different translation, but I’m positive that he’s clearly referencing the first line in following text on page 24:

      “This means that no state, howsoever democratic its forms, not even the reddest political republic – a people’s republic only in the sense of the lie know as popular representation – is capable of giving the people what they need: the free organization of their own interests from below upward, without any interference tutelage, or coercion from above. That is because no state, not even the most republican and democratic, not even the pseudo-popular state contemplated by Marx, in essence represents anything but government of the masses from above downward, by an educated and thereby privileged minority which supposedly understands the real interests of the people better than the people themselves.”

      I too have issues with Chomsky’s citations and use of quotes during speeches/interviews. In all honesty, I’ve doubted some of the things that Chomsky says. How could you not doubt such outlandish claims? However, I’m extremely grateful because tracking down these quotes has made me work very hard at not only finding the source documents, but also reading all sorts of books and documents that I would have never read if it wasn’t for Chomsky. He’s not wrong. It’s all there in black and white for all to read. You just may have work a little harder than most 🙂


  2. heh, it was curiosity about an Adam Smith quote used by Chomsky that got me here to your site Elpidio 🙂

    On the subject of poorly remembered quotes about the rich leading the blind, there’s one I’ve been trying to remember for ages. For some reason I think it was one of the old greeks like Plato. Something like “I’ve met quite a few men who were born to be slaves, but I’m yet to meet one born to be their master.”

    i guess that sums up the problem. People are often stupid, sometimes willfully so. No judgement here, there’s much happiness in ignorance. The problem is that someone is going to take advantage of them and manipulate the ignorant to their own ends, and anyone who tries to step in and protect the ignorant is likely to have to do the same.

    Thanks for the introduction to Bakunin, I’ll have to read him and find out if he thought of any solutions to the problems he seems so good at foreseeing.

  3. Always happy to help. Cheers!

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