Protest of the Alliance

Michael Bakunin

July 1871


1) As long as the economic organisation of the current society lasts, that is to say as long as capital, or raw materials and the instruments of work, necessary for production, remain monopolised in the hands of this bourgeois oligarchy, and the proletariat forced by hunger and inevitably competing to escape hunger, sell their labour, the true, the only producer, as a commodity at the lowest price, always more or less determined by the price of what is absolutely necessary so as not to allow its productive force to die of starvation, the increase in the misery and suffering of the proletariat will always be a direct reason for the increase of wealth or what is called the development of material interests and the economic prosperity of nations.

2) That the more this prosperity grows, the more wealth or capital will be monopolised by an ever smaller number of bourgeois oligarchs; what will have and what already has the necessary consequence of pushing the middle bourgeoisie into the petty [bourgeoisie] and the petty bourgeoisie into the proletariat.

3) That this deplorable state of affairs, whose duration threatens to plunge the human world into a new barbarism, will only end when the capital, the raw materials, the instruments of labour necessary for production, including without doubt the earth, ceasing to be appropriated by individuals, will become collective property.


It [the International Workers Association] was based on intellectual inspiration and social science derived from historical study and the critique of economic facts. Is this science accessible to the proletariat, in the state of ignorance in which it now finds itself? Without doubt, yes, and more than any other. This science, as well as all other positive sciences, is based on experience, on an exact knowledge, and on the analysis of facts. But are not the facts that serve as their focus precisely the situation, the misery, the sufferings of the proletariat? so that a worker needs only to consider and explore his own situation, to find the effects and causes, which all renew themselves for him, nor can he eventually escape, to become a perfect economist, much more truthful and serious than a host of well-known bourgeois economists, but who study this science about the sufferings of others and which they have every interest to reduce the importance of.

To be placed right in the middle of economic and social science, the worker therefore has only one thing to do: that is to make his own fate an object of constant reflection, as much in relation to the severity and duration of his own work, of his wages, of the price of things necessary for the upkeep of him as well as his family, than by the earnings and leisure that his work provides to the boss who employs him. Let him then compare his position with that of his comrades in the workshop, then with that of the workers of his trade in the same locality, and again with that of the workers of the same trade in foreign countries; finally with those of workers of other trades in all lands. Going step by step in this entirely experimental way, comparing the facts and deducing general implications, he will arrive by himself to the perfect knowledge of the principles which constitute the basis of social science.

It was only in this way and not by attending courses on political economy, that many English workers have been able to acquire knowledge so right, so vast, and at the same time comprehensive in social economy, that the commissions of inquiry which the English Parliament usually appoint during great crises to ascertain the situation of an industry in distress, have often been astonished listening to simple workers give them not only the most accurate information about the situation, but also on the general causes which produced it.

In general, we cannot sufficiently recommend to workers the study of economic science, which, we repeat it again, is precisely that which is most accessible to them, and not to begin this study with the reading of economic books, whose more or less abstract terminology could frighten them. Not that they begin it in the wholly experimental manner we have just indicated, initially by making an exact account of their own situation and of their own economic and social relations, and then extending their investigations to the relations and the situation of the workers first of a single profession and later of all trades.

Nothing is as favourable to this study as the organisation of the sections of a trade. What is their purpose? It is the struggle in common to obtain from the bosses of their trades the most favourable conditions from the point of view of wages and working hours. This is such a completely determined struggle, the conditions of which can only be established by the exact knowledge of all the economic facts which have a relation to developments, the prosperity or decline of such-and-such an industry, first of all in the locality, then necessarily in many other countries that compete with local production. While thereby discussing amongst themselves their own problems, their deepest and most cherished interests and amongst others that of their daily bread, workers are forced at the same time to discuss the most abstract principles of social science. What will this be then, when, following the impulse given to them in Belgium by a group of young socialist revolutionaries as intelligent as they are devoted, the workers of all trades, or rather the different trade sections, will reach agreement with each other in every country to establish a trades council [chambre de travail], or the delegates of every section or of every trade, bringing with them their workbooks, discuss “all the issues that are dealt with in the bourgeois political parliaments,” from the point of view of the workers in general, as well as the workers of each industry considered specifically!

This completely practical, completely vital study of social science undertaken and constantly pursued by the workers themselves, both in their respective trade sections and in these trades councils, will necessarily lead and has already led to a large extent to produce in them this unanimous and fully considered conviction, demonstrable both in theory and in practice, that the serious, final, complete emancipation of the workers is possible only on one condition, and that this condition is the appropriation of capital, that is to say the raw materials and all the instruments of labour, including land, by the workers collectively.

We insist on the necessity of these studies, both practical and theoretical, for every member of the International, first because they constitute, strictly and by themselves, the main object, the daily interest, the great issue of every trade section, whose immediate aim is to safeguard the economic interests as well as the freedom and dignity of its members; and secondly, because we have this conviction that science or economic knowledge, considered initially from its narrowest point of view as embracing only the collective interests of a section or of all the workers of the same trade in the same locality, then extending consecutively, not by way of abstraction, of self-annihilation or of an impossible fusion, but by way of federation, first to the workers sections of the same trade throughout the civilised world, and then to the workers sections of all trades, both locally and in other countries, and thereby achieving, by the stringent analysis of all the workers’ situations and the economic causes of which they are the effects, to embrace and formulate the general conditions of the emancipation for all the workers of the world – because we are convinced that this, or this collective consciousness, must henceforth constitute the material basis, the sole basis of all aspirations, commitments and actions of workers in any line of thought or whatever the events. The economic question considered in this extent and embracing both all conditions of labour as well as those of the just distribution of the products of labour, is the real terrain that the worker must never abandon. As soon as he abandons it, he loses himself in metaphysical, juridical, political, theological abstractions, and disorientated, deprived of his two faithful guides, his common sense and the awareness or instinct of his real interests, he always finds himself once again, to his great surprise, the slave and exploited of the bourgeois. While remaining on the economic terrain, the worker will be all powerful. No siren voice from the bourgeois world can shake his real understanding, his common sense, and no sophism can prevail against this simple question: “The fine things you propose to us will change our economic condition to equal that of the privileged classes. Do you want to work as we work, and share all the enjoyments as well as all the duties of life, according to justice, equally with us? Do you want Capital to stop oppressing us and exploiting us, that is to say, do you want it to cease being a private property and become the collective property of the federated workers associations? If not, leave. We will not give up this sole question whereby we see clearly, to let ourselves be led astray by you, [give up] this terrain which is solely ours, and the leaving of which we become once again your dupes, your tools, your slaves.”

The organisation of trade sections, their federation in the International [Workers’] Association and their representation by trade councils [Chambres de travail] not only creates a great Academy where all the workers of the International, uniting practice with theory, can and must study economic science, they even carry the living seeds of the new social order that is to replace the bourgeois world. They create not only the ideas but the very facts of the future.