Invisible dictatorship

An invisible dictatorship was a term coined by Mikhail Bakunin to describe clandestine revolutionary leadership. Bakunin also used the terms invisible legion and invisible network to describe his concept of invisible dictatorship.

On invisible dictatorship

In nineteenth century Europe the discussion of how a transitional revolutionary government might act took place since the days of Gracchus Babeuf. In 1828 Philippe Buonarroti published Conspiration pour l'Egalité dite de Babeuf, suivie du procès auquel elle donna lieu which proved to be very influential on Auguste Blanqui and the revolutionaries of 1848, from Louis Blanc to Bakunin. From this arose the concept of a small band of revolutionaries instituting an Educational Dictatorship which would raise the consciousness of the masses to the point that democracy could be introduced.

In the French February Revolution of 1848, the provisional government assumed power extralegally, through an announcement before a mass demonstration. Louis Blanc advocated that the provisional government should "regard themselves as dictators appointed by a revolution which had become inevitable and which was under no obligation to seek the sanction of universal suffrage until after having accomplished all the good which the moment required."[1] He also reiterated the idea of the "dictatorship of Paris" over the country. Bakunin, having received funds from Blanc's provisional government, threw himself into the revolutionary movement in Bohemia. He subsequently described his aim as the establishment of a "government with unlimited dictatorial power," in which "all will be subjugated to a single dictatorial authority," through three secret societies based on "strict hierarchy and unconditional discipline." Hal Draper claims this was the first appearance of his concept of a "secret dictatorship" exercised by "Invisible Dictators." Bakunin also saw Prague playing the role of Paris: "The revolutionary government with unlimited dictatorial power must sit in Prague ... All clubs and journals, all manifestations of garrulous anarchy, will also be destroyed, and all will be subjugated to a single dictatorial authority."[2] Eddie Ford has described this as a '‘dual organisation’' principle, with a secret cadre of controllers manipulating a public front.[3]

In 1866 Bakunin abandoned the idea of state or centralized authority, and his ideas of what a secret society should be changed accordingly:[4]

"We are bitter foes of all official power, even if it were ultra-revolutionary power. We are enemies of all publicly acknowledged dictatorship; we are social-revolutionary anarchists. But you will ask, if we are anarchists, by what right do we wish to and by what method can we influence the people? Rejecting any power, by what power or rather by what force shall we direct the people's revolution? An invisible force--recognized by on one, imposed by no one--through which the collective dictatorship of our organization will be all the mightier, the more it remains invisible and unacknowledged, the more it remains without any official legality and significance.".
Bakunin's June 2, 1870 letter to Nechayev[5]

This theme is also to be found in a letter sent by Bakunin to Albert Richard, a fellow member of the Alliance of Social Democracy during the turmoil surrounding the Paris Commune:[6]

They appeal for order, for trust in, for submission to those who, in the course and in the name of the Revolution, seized and legalized their own dictatorial powers; this is how such political revolutionaries reconstitute the State. We, on the contrary, must awaken and foment all the dynamic passions of the people. We must bring forth anarchy, and in the midst of the popular tempest, we must be the invisible pilots guiding the Revolution, not by any kind of overt power but by the collective dictatorship of all our allies [members of the anarchist vanguard organization International Alliance of Social Democracy], a dictatorship without tricks, without official titles, without official rights, and therefore all the more powerful, as it does not carry the trappings of power. This is the only dictatorship I will accept, but in order to act, it must first be created, it must be prepared and organized in advance, for it will not come into being by itself, neither by discussions, nor by theoretical disputations, nor by mass propaganda meetings...

Invisible network

Anarchist theorist George Woodcock developed the idea of what he called a "pure anarchism", defining it as "the loose and flexible affinity group which needs no formal organization and carries on anarchist propaganda through an invisible network of personal contacts and intellectual influences." However he argued that this was incompatible with mass movements like anarcho-syndicalism as they "make compromises with day-to-day situations" and because they have to "maintain the allegiance of masses of [workers] who are only remotely conscious of the final aim of anarchism."[7] However this viewpoint has been rejected by other anarchists such as Sam Dolgoff, who countered "There is no "pure" anarchism. There is only the application of anarchist principles to the realities of social living."[8]


Bakunin's use of the term 'invisible dictatorship' has been criticised from a number of view points, sometimes in an attempt to discredit anarchism by associating it with this term. Some anarchists have rejected these criticisms with the claim that anarchism is innately incompatible with the concept of coercion, quoting Bakunin himself on this. The concept of the invisible dictatorship is based more on intellectual leadership and carries no connotation of forced leadership.[9]

See also


  1. ^ The ‘Dictatorship of the Proletariat’ in Marx and Engels
  2. ^ Draper, Hal (1986-01-01). Karl Marx's Theory of Revolution. vol. 3. New York: Monthly Review Press. p. 57. ISBN 0-85345-674-7.
  3. ^ Democracy or anarchism by Eddie Ford, Weekly Worker, September 6, 2001
  4. ^ History of Anarchism in Russia by E. Yaroslavsky
  5. ^ Bakunin Rebukes Nechayev And His Chatechism For Vanguardism by Jon Bekken (Anarchy Archives)
  6. ^ Bakunin, Mikhail. "Letter to Albert Richard". Retrieved 30 August 2017.
  7. ^ Anarchism, World Publishing, Cleveland, 1962 pp. 273-4
  8. ^ The Relevance of Anarchism to Modern Society accessed 12 September 2006
  9. ^

External links

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