Invisible dictatorship

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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[edit]

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 the most pronounced enemies of every sort of official power– even if it is an ultra-revolutionary power. We are the enemies of any sort of publicly declared dictatorship, we are social revolutionary anarchists. But, you will ask, if we are anarchists, by what right do we want to influence the people, and what methods will we use? Denouncing all power, with what sort of power, or rather by what sort of force, shall we direct a people's revolution? By a force that is invisible, that no one admits and that is not imposed on anyone, by the collective dictatorship of our organization which will be all the greater the more it remains unseen and undeclared, the more it is deprived of all official rights and significance...[Secret organizations] would finally have the strength of that close solidarity which binds isolated groups in one organic whole...These groups would not seek anything for themselves...and they would be in a position to direct popular movements...This is what I call the collective dictatorship of a secret organization.
Letter to Sergei Nechaev[5]


The term appears 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:[citation needed]

[t]here is only one power and one dictatorship whose organisation is salutary and feasible: it is that collective, invisible dictatorship of those who are allied in the name of our principle (...) this dictatorship will be all the more salutary and effective for not being dressed up in any official power or extrinsic character.

Invisible network[edit]

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."[6] 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."[7]


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.[8]

See also[edit]


  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. ^ Bakuninism– backward politics under the guise of no politics by Pete Brown (from Communist Voice #6, Jan. 15, 1996)
  6. ^ Anarchism, World Publishing, Cleveland, 1962 pp. 273-4
  7. ^ The Relevance of Anarchism to Modern Society accessed 12 September 2006
  8. ^

External links[edit]