The “Revolutionary Catechism” of Sergei Gennadiyevich Nechaev and Mikhail Alexandrovich Bakunin was one of the formative discoveries of my teen years. Here was a vision of an anarchist society that seemed like it would work, with a bare minimum of overhead: a middle path between mere chaos and socialist bureaucracy.
Decades later, I still see the appeal in it, though experience in various orgs, communes and circles have taught me that just leaving everything up to one-person-one-vote is far from a panacea.
I am reworking the Catechism to get rid of gendered language and Europeanisms like “province;” later on I intend see how working in elements of sociocracy and Rojavan municipalism might improve the recipe.
I. As a free society must be grounded in respect and love of humanity, we proclaim human reason as the only criterion of truth, human conscience as the basis of justice, and individual and collective freedom as the only source of order in society.
II. Freedom is the absolute right of every adult person to seek no other sanction for their acts than their own conscience and their own reason, being responsible first to themselves and then to the society which they have voluntarily accepted.
III. It is not true that the freedom of one person is limited by that of other people. A person is truly free only to the extent that their freedom—fully acknowledged and mirrored by the free consent of their comrades—finds confirmation and expansion in their liberty. A person is truly free only among equally free people; the oppression of even one human being violates the humanity and negates the freedom of each and all.
IV. The freedom of each is therefore realizable only in the equality of all. The realization of freedom through equality, in principle and in fact, is justice.
V. If there is one fundamental principle of human morality, it is freedom. To respect the freedom of your comrade is responsibility; to love, help, and serve them is virtue.
VI. We reject, absolutely, every authority including that which sacrifices freedom for the convenience of society. The political and economic structure of society must now be reorganized on the basis of freedom, and order in society must result from the greatest possible realization of individual freedom, as well as of freedom at every level of social organization.
VII. The political and economic organization of social life must not be directed from the summit to the base, imposing unity through forced centralization. On the contrary, it must issue from the base to the summit – from the circumference to the center – according to the principlesof free association and federation.
IX. There can be no single ideal for the internal development and political organization of every country. Each society evolved under different historical, geographical, and economic conditions, and no one model of organization could possibly be equally valid for all. However, without certain absolutely essential conditions the practical realization of freedom will be forever impossible.
These conditions are:
Abolition, dissolution, and moral, political, and economic dismantling of the all-pervasive, regimented, centralized State, the permanent cause of the impoverishment, brutalization, and enslavement of the multitude. This naturally entails the following: Abolition of banks and all other institutions of state credit. Abolition of all centralized administration, of the bureaucracy, of all permanent armies and police. Abolition of all state universities: public education must be administered only by the communes and free associations. Abolition of the judiciary: all judges must be elected by the people. Abolition of all criminal, civil, and legal laws: the code of freedom can be created only by freedom itself.
Immediate direct election of all judicial and civil functionaries as well as representatives (national, state, and municipal delegates) by the universal suffrage of all adult people.
The internal reorganization of each country on the basis of the absolute freedom of individuals, of the productive associations, and of the neighborhoods, towns and cities. Necessity of recognizing the right of secession: every individual, every association, every town, every city, every region, every nation has the absolute right to self-determination, to associate or not to associate, to ally themselves with whomever they wish and repudiate their alliances without regard to so-called historic rights [rights consecrated by legal precedent] or the convenience of their neighbors. Once the right to secede is established, secession will no longer be necessary. With the dissolution of a “unity” imposed by violence, the units of society will be drawn to unite by their powerful mutual attraction and by inherent necessities. Consecrated by liberty, these new federations of communes, provinces, regions, and nations will then be truly strong, productive, and indissoluble.’
The right of everyone, from birth to adulthood, to complete upkeep, clothes, food, shelter, care, guidance, education (public schools, primary, secondary, higher education, artistic, industrial, and scientific), all at the expense of society.
The equal right of adolescents, while freely choosing their future paths, to be helped and to the greatest possible extent supported by society. After this, society will exercise no authority or supervision over them except to respect, and if necessary defend, their freedom and their rights.
The freedom of all adults must be absolute and complete: freedom to come and go, to voice all opinions, to be lazy or active, moral or immoral; in short, to dispose of one’s person or possessions as one pleases, being accountable to no one. Freedom to live, be it honestly, by one’s own labor, even at the expense of individuals who voluntarily tolerate one’s exploitation.
Unlimited freedom of propaganda, speech, press, public or private assembly, with no other restraint than the natural salutary power of public opinion. Absolute freedom to organize associations even for allegedly immoral purposes including even those associations which advocate the undermining (or destruction) of individual and public freedom.
Freedom can and must be defended only by freedom: to advocate the restriction of freedom on the pretext that it is being defended is a dangerous delusion. As morality has no other source, no other object, no other stimulant than freedom, all restrictions of freedom in order to protect morality have always been to the detriment of the latter. Experience has demonstrated that a repressive and authoritarian system, far from preventing, only increases disorder.
Society cannot, however, leave itself completely defenseless against vicious and parasitic individuals. The units of society, each within its own jurisdiction, can deprive all such antisocial adults of political rights (except the old, the sick, and those dependent on private or public subsidy) and will be obliged to restore their political rights as soon as they are reconciled with the standards of the community.
The freedom of every human being is inalienable and society will never require any individual to surrender it nor to sign contracts with other individuals except on the basis of the most complete equality and reciprocity. Society cannot forcibly prevent anyone so devoid of personal dignity as to place themselves in voluntary servitude to another individual; but it can justly treat such persons as parasites.
Persons who violate voluntary agreements, steal, inflict bodily harm, or above all, violate the freedom of any individual, native or foreigner, will be penalized according to the laws of society.
Individuals condemned by the laws of any and every association (municipal, district, region, or country) reserve the right to escape punishment by declaring that they wish to resign from that association. But in this case, the association will have the equal right to expel such persons and declare them outside its guarantee and protection.
I. Rights of association. We proclaim this fundamental principle: irrespective of their functions or aims, all associations, like all individuals, must enjoy absolute freedom. Neither society, nor any part of society – community, region, or country – has the right to prevent free individuals from associating freely for any purpose whatsoever: political, religious, scientific, artistic, or even for the exploitation or corruption of the naive or addicts, provided that they are not minors. To combat charlatans and pernicious associations is the special affair of public opinion. But society is obliged to refuse to guarantee civic rights of any association or collective body whose aims or rules violate the fundamental principles of human justice. Individuals shall not be penalized or deprived of their full political and social rights solely for belonging to such unrecognized societies. The difference between the recognized and unrecognized associations will be the following: the juridically recognized associations will have the right to the protection of the community against individuals or recognized groups who refuse to fulfill their voluntary obligations.’ The juridically unrecognized associations will not be entitled to such protection by the community and none of their agreements will be regarded as binding.
J. The division of a country into regions, areas, counties and communities will naturally depend on the traditions, the specific circumstances, and the particular nature of each country. We can only point out here the two fundamental and indispensable principles which must be put into effect by any country seriously trying to organize a free society. First: all organizations must proceed by way of federation from the base to the summit, from the community to the coordinating association of the country or nation. Second: there must be at least one autonomous intermediate body between the community and the country, the region, or the area. Without such an autonomous intermediate body, the community (in the strict sense of the term) would be too isolated and too weak to be able to resist the centralistic pressure of the State, which will inevitably restore to power a despotic regime. Despotism has its source much more in the centralized organization of the State, than in the despotic nature of governors and bosses.
K. The basic unit of all political organization in each country must be the completely autonomous community, constituted by the majority vote of all adults. No one shall have either the power or the right to interfere in the internal life of the community. The community elects all functionaries, law-makers, and judges. It administers the common property and finances. Every community should have the incontestable right to create, without superior sanction, its own constitution and legislation. But in order to join and become an integral part of the district federation, the community must conform its own particular charter to the fundamental principles of the district constitution and be accepted by the assembly of the district. The community must also accept the judgments of the district tribunal and any measures ordered by the administration of the district. (All measures of the district administration must be ratified by the district assembly.) Communities refusing to accept the district laws will not be entitled to its benefits.
L. The district must be nothing but a free federation of autonomous communities. The district assembly could be composed either of a single chamber with representatives of each of the communities or of two chambers, the other representing the population of the district, independent of the communities. The district assembly, without interfering in any manner whatsoever in the internal decisions of the communities will formulate the district constitution. This constitution must be accepted by all communities wishing to participate in the district assembly. The district assembly will enact legislation defining the rights and obligations of individuals, communities, and associations in relation to the district federation, and the penalties for violations of its laws. It will reserve, however, the right of the communities to diverge on secondary points, though not on fundamentals.
The district assembly, in strict accordance with the Charter of the Federation of Communities, will define the rights and obligations existing between the communities, the assembly, the judicial tribunal, and the district administration. It will enact all laws affecting the whole district, pass on resolutions or measures of the national assembly, without, however, violating the autonomy of the communities and the district. Without interfering in the internal administration of the communities, it will allot to each community its share of the district or national income, which will be used by the community as its members decide. The district assembly will ratify or reject all policies and measures of the districtadministration which will, of course, be elected by universal suffrage. The district tribunal (also elected by universal suffrage) will adjudicate, without appeal, all disputes between communities and individuals, communities and communities, and communities and the district administration or assembly.
M. The region must be nothing but a federation of autonomous districts. The organizational relations between the districts and the region will, in general, be the same as those between the communities and the district.
N. The country must be nothing but a federation of autonomous regions. The organizational relations between the regions and the country will, in general, be the same as those between the districts and the region.
O. Principles of the International Federation. The union of countries comprising the International Federation will be based on the principles outlined above. This alliance will be the germ of the future Universal Federation of Peoples which will eventually embrace the entire world. The International Federation of revolutionary peoples, with an assembly, a tribunal, and an international executive committee, will naturally be based on the principles of the revolution. Applied to international polity these principles are:
Every land, every nation, every people, large or small, weak or strong, every region, district, and community has the absolute right to self-determination, to make alliances, unite or secede as it pleases, regardless of so-called historic rights and the political, commercial, or strategic ambitions of States. The unity of the elements of society, in order to be genuine, fruitful, and durable, must be absolutely free: it can emerge only from the internal needs and mutual attractions of the respective units of society.
Abolition of alleged historic rights and the horrible right of conquest, in favor of absolute and unquestioned self-determination of all peoples subjected to colonizing regimes. Reparations and reconciliation to be fostered by the relevant federation and under the direction of the affected peoples.
The well-being and the freedom of nations as well as individuals are inextricably interwoven. Therefore, there must be free commerce, exchange, and communication among all federated countries, and abolition of frontiers, passports, and customs duties or tariffs. All citizens of a federated country must enjoy the same civic rights and it must be easy for them to acquire citizenship and enjoy political rights in all other countries adhering to the same federation. If freedom is the starting point, it will necessarily lead to unity.
No federated country shall maintain a permanent standing army or any institution separating the soldier from the civilian. Not only do permanent,armies and professional soldiers breed internal disruption, brutalization, and financial ruin, they also menace the independence and well-being of other nations. All able-bodied citizens should, if necessary, take up arms to defend their homes and their freedom. Each country’s military defense and equipment should be organized locally by the community or region.
The International Tribunal shall have no other function than to settle, without appeal, all disputes between nations and their respective regions. Differences between two federated countries shall be adjudicated, without appeal, only by the International Assembly, which, in the name of the entire revolutionary federation, will also formulate common policy and make war, if unavoidable, against the reactionary coalition.
No federated nation shall make war against another federated country. If there is war and the International Tribunal has pronounced its decision, the aggressor must submit. If this doesn’t occur, the other federated nations will sever relations with it and, in case of attack by the aggressor, unite to repel invasion.
All members of the revolutionary federation must actively take part in approved wars against a nonfederated state. If a federated nation declares unjust war on an outside State against the advice of the International Tribunal, it will be notified in advance that it will have to do so alone.
It is hoped that the federated states will eventually give up the expensive luxury of separate diplomatic representatives to foreign states and arrange for representatives to speak in the name of all the federated States.
Only nations or peoples accepting the principles outlined in this catechism will be admitted to the federation.
X. Social Organization. Without political equality there can be no real political freedom, but political equality will be possible only when there is social and economic equality.
Equality does not imply the leveling of individual differences, nor that individuals should be made physically, morally, or psychologically identical. Diversity in capacities and abilities – those differences between races, nations, sexes, ages, and persons – far from being a social evil, constitutes, on the contrary, the abundance of humanity. Economic and social equality means the equalization of personal wealth, but not by restricting what a person may acquire by their own skill, productive energy, and thrift.
Equality and justice demand only a society so organized that every single human being will – from birth through adolescence and maturity – find therein equal means, first for maintenance and education, and later, for the exercise of all their natural capacities and aptitudes. This equality from birth that justice demands for everyone will be impossible as long as the right of inheritance continues to exist.
Abolition of the right of inheritance. Social inequality – inequality of classes, privileges, and wealth – not by right but in fact. will continue to exist until such time as the right of inheritance is abolished. It is an inherent social law that de facto inequality inexorably produces inequality of rights; social inequality leads to political inequality. And without political equality – in the true, universal, and libertarian sense in which we understand it – society will always remain divided into two unequal parts. The first. which comprises the great majority of mankind, the masses of the people, will be oppressed by the privileged, exploiting minority. The right of inheritance violates the principle of freedom and must be abolished.
When inequality resulting from the right of inheritance is abolished, there will still remain inequalities [of wealth] – due to the diverse amounts of energy and skill possessed by individuals. These inequalities will never entirely disappear, but will become more and more minimized under the influence of education and of an egalitarian social organization, and, above all, when the right of inheritance no longer burdens the coming generations.
Labor is the foundation of human dignity and morality. But this does not go to the heart of the question. Human labor, in general, is still divided into two exclusive categories: the first – solely intellectual and managerial – includes the scientists, artists, engineers, inventors, accountants, educators, governmental officials, and their subordinate elites who enforce labor discipline. The second group consists of the great mass of workers, people prevented from applying creative ideas or intelligence, who blindly and mechanically carry out the orders of the intellectual-managerial elite. This economic and social division of labor has disastrous consequences for members of the privileged classes, the masses of the people, and for the prosperity, as well as the moral and intellectual development, of society as a whole. For the privileged classes a life of luxurious idleness gradually leads to moral and intellectual degeneration. It is perfectly true that a certain amount of leisure is absolutely necessary for the artistic, scientific, and mental development of man; creative leisure followed by the healthy exercise of daily labor, one that is well earned and is socially provided for all according to individual capacities and preferences.
The artificial separation between manual and intellectual labor must give way to a new social synthesis. When the man of science performs manual labor and the man of work performs intellectual labor, free intelligent work will become the glory of mankind, the source of its dignity and its rights.
Intelligent and free labor will necessarily be collective labor. When the free productive associations (which will include members of cooperatives and labor organizations) voluntarily organize according to their needs and special skills, they will then transcend all national boundaries and form an immense worldwide economic federation. This will include an industrial assembly, supplied by the associations with precise and detailed global-scale statistics; by harmonizing supply and demand the parliament will distribute and allocate world industrial production to the various nations. Commercial and industrial crises, stagnation (unemployment), waste of capital, etc., will no longer plague mankind; the emancipation of human labor will regenerate the world.
The land, and all natural resources, are the common property of everyone. Without expropriation, only through the powerful pressure of the worker’s associations, capital and the tools of production will fall to those who produce wealth by their own labor. Private ownership of production will be permitted only if the owners do the actual work and do not employ anyone.
Equal political, social, and economic rights, as well as equal obligations for people of all gender identities, all socioeconomic classes, all conditions of disability, all sexual orientations, all religions and none, the previously-incarcerated, irregular migrants and victims of all forms of human trafficking and abuse.
Abolition not of the natural family but of the legal family founded on law and property. Religious and civil marriage to be replaced by free marriage. Adult people have the right to unite and separate as they please, and society has no right to hinder their union nor to force them to maintain it. With the abolition of the right of inheritance and the education of children assured by society, all the legal reasons for the irrevocability of marriage will disappear. The union of two (or more) individuals must be free, for a free choice is the indispensable condition for moral sincerity. In marriage, partners must enjoy absolute liberty. Neither violence nor passion nor rights surrendered in the past can justify an invasion by one of the freedom of another, and every such invasion shall be considered a crime.
From the moment of pregnancy to birth, child-bearers and their offspring shall be subsidized by the community organization. People who wish to nurse and wean their children shall also be subsidized.
Parents shall have the right to care for and guide the education of their children, under the ultimate control of the community which retains the right and the obligation to take children away from parents who, by example or by cruel and inhuman treatment, demoralize or otherwise hinder the physical and mental development of their children.
Children belong neither to their parents nor to society. They belong to themselves and to their own future liberty. Until old enough to take care of themselves, children must be brought up under the guidance of their elders. It is true that parents are their natural tutors, but since the very future of the community itself depends upon the intellectual and moral training it gives to children, the community must be the ultimate tutor. The freedom of adults is possible only when the free society looks after the education of minors.
Having reached the age of adulthood, adolescents will be proclaimed autonomous and free to act as they deem best. In exchange, society will expect them to fulfill only these three obligations: that they remain free, that they live by their own labor, and that they respect the freedom of others.
The old, sick, and ill will enjoy all political and social rights and be bountifully supported at the expense of society.
XI. Revolutionary policy. It is our deep-seated conviction that since the freedom of all nations is indivisible, national revolutions must become international in scope. There should, therefore, not be isolated revolutions, but a universal, worldwide revolution.We believe also that the alliance of the world counterrevolution and the conspiracy of dictators, bosses, financiers and the bourgeoisie, based on enormous budgets, on permanent armies, on formidable bureaucracies, and equipped with all the monstrous apparatus of modern centralized states, constitutes an overwhelming force; indeed, that this formidable reactionary coalition can be destroyed only by the greater power of the simultaneous revolutionary alliance and action of all the people of the civilized world, that against this reaction the isolated revolution of a single people will never succeed. Such a revolution would be folly, a catastrophe for the isolated country and would, in effect, constitute a crime against all the other nations. It follows that the uprising of a single people must have in view not only itself, but the whole world. This demands a worldwide program, as large, as profound, as true, as human, in short, as all-embracing as the interests of the whole world. And in order to energize the passions of all the popular masses, this program can only be the program of the social and democratic revolution.
Briefly stated, the objectives of the social and democratic revolution are as follows:
Politically: the abolition of the historic rights of states, the rights of conquest, and statist international law. It aims at the full emancipation of individuals and associations from bondage; it seeks the absolute destruction of all compulsory unions, and all agglomerations of communities into states and provinces and conquered countries into the Nation-State. Finally, it requires the radical dissolution of the centralized, aggressive, authoritarian Nation-State, including its military, bureaucratic, governmental, administrative, judicial, and legislative institutions. The revolution, in short, has this aim: freedom for all, for individuals as well as collective bodies, associations, communities, districts, regions, and countries, and the mutual guarantee of this freedom by federation.
Socially: it seeks the confirmation of political equality by economic equality. This is not the removal of natural individual differences, but equality in the social rights of every individual from birth; in particular, equal means of subsistence, support, education, and opportunity for every child, until maturity, and equal resources and facilities in adulthood to create his own well-being by their own labor.