Founded by Russian ex-Nihilist Mikhail Bakunin in Italy sometime around 1864, the International Brothers were a significant presence in late nineteenth-century European politics and played an important role in the First International. The Brothers’ manifesto, Bakunin’s Revolutionary Catechism of 1866, called for capitalism’s replacement by an egalitarian society in which farmers owned their own land and industry was owned and managed by workers cooperatives. In practice, however, the society was an absolute dictatorship controlled by Bakunin, and its plan of action concentrated all power in the hands of the Brothers after the revolution in an “invisible dictatorship.” See Nihilists.

Sometime after the formation of the International Brothers, its members formed a front group, the Secret Alliance, also known as the Alliance of Social Revolutionists or the Secret Alliance of Socialist Democracy. The Secret Alliance then sponsored a public organization, the International Alliance of Socialist Democracy, which merged with the First International in 1868. Once inside the International, in time-honored fashion, they attempted to reformulate its goals and activities to fit their own vision of social revolution. See First International.

Bakunin’s followers, however, faced opponents who had already overcome one secret society within the International. Originally sponsored in 1864 by the Philadelphes, one of the last of the old revolutionary secret societies of the Napoleonic era, the International had fallen under the control of Karl Marx and his then-ally Auguste Blanqui, another leading figure in the radical circles of the time. The co-author of the Communist Manifesto and the leading figure in the radical intelligentsia of his time, Marx controlled the single largest bloc of delegates on the International’s General Council. See Communism; Philadelphes.

Bakunin and his followers remained in the International for four short and troubled years, but Marx and Blanqui checkmated them at every turn. Expelled in 1872 at the instigation of Marx, Bakunin tried to launch an “Anti-Authoritarian” International of his own, but this failed to attract more than a token following outside Bakunin’s own organization. In 1874 Bakunin diverted the entire treasury of the Brothers to pay for improvements to his Swiss villa, causing many of the society’s members to defect. Not long after he died, two years later, the International Brothers and the schismatic International they tried to control quietly went out of existence, leaving the field clear for the founding of the Second International in 1889.


The Element Encyclopedia of Secret Societies : the ultimate a-z of ancient mysteries, lost civilizations and forgotten wisdom written by John Michael Greer – © John Michael Greer 2006