Peter Kropotkin

Peter Kropotkin

Kropotkin, by Nadar
Born December 9, 1842(1842-12-09)
Moscow, Russian Empire
Died February 8, 1921 (aged 78)
Dmitrov, Russian SFSR
Occupation Anarchist revolutionary, geographer, zoologist, and political essayist.

Peter (Pyotr) Alexeyevich Kropotkin (Russian: ñññ »ññ šñ¿ñ) (9 December 1842 – 8 February 1921) was a zoologist, an evolutionary theorist, geographer and one of the world's foremost anarcho-communists. One of the first advocates of anarchist communism, Kropotkin advocated a communist society free from central government and based on voluntary associations between workers. Because of his title of prince, he was known by some as "the Anarchist Prince". Some contemporaries saw him as leading a near perfect life, including Oscar Wilde, who described him as "a man with a soul of that beautiful white Christ which seems coming out of Russia."[1] He wrote many books, pamphlets and articles, the most prominent being The Conquest of Bread and Fields, Factories and Workshops, and his principal scientific offering, Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution. He was also a contributor to the Encyclopdia Britannica Eleventh Edition in writing the article on anarchism [2].


[edit] Biography

[edit] Early life

Peter (or Pyotr) Kropotkin was born in Moscow. His father, Prince Alexei Petrovich Kropotkin, owned large tracts of land and nearly 1200 "souls" (male serfs) in three provinces. Kropotkin's male line traced to the legendary prince Rurik; his mother was the daughter of a Russian general. "[U]nder the influence of republican teachings," he dropped his princely title at the age of twelve, and "even rebuked his friends, when they so referred to him."[3]

In 1857, at age 15, Kropotkin entered the Corps of Pages at St. Petersburg. Only 150 boys– mostly children of nobility belonging to the court– were educated in this privileged corps, which combined the character of a military school endowed with special rights and of a court institution attached to the imperial household. Kropotkin's memoirs detail the hazing and other abuse of pages for which the Corps had become notorious.

In Moscow, Kropotkin had developed an interest in the condition of the peasantry, and this interest increased as he grew older. In St. Petersburg, he read widely on his own account, and gave special attention to the works of the French encyclopdists and to French history. The years 1857-1861 witnessed a rich growth in the intellectual forces of Russia, and Kropotkin came under the influence of the new liberal-revolutionary literature, which largely expressed his own aspirations.

In 1862, Kropotkin was promoted from the Corps of Pages to the army. The members of the corps had the prescriptive right to choose the regiment to which they would be attached. For some time, he was aide de camp to the governor of Transbaikalia at Chita. Later he was appointed attach for Cossack affairs to the governor-general of East Siberia at Irkutsk.

[edit] Expeditions

Kropotkin circa 1870

Administrative work was scarce, and in 1864 Kropotkin accepted charge of a geographical survey expedition, crossing North Manchuria from Transbaikalia to the Amur, and soon was attached to another expedition which proceeded up the Sungari River into the heart of Manchuria. The expeditions yielded very valuable geographical results. The impossibility of obtaining any real administrative reforms in Siberia now induced Kropotkin to devote himself almost entirely to scientific exploration, in which he continued to be highly successful.[citation needed]

In 1867, he quit the army and returned to St. Petersburg, where he entered the university, becoming at the same time secretary to the geography section of the Russian Geographical Society. In 1871, he explored the glacial deposits of Finland and Sweden for the Society. In 1873, he published an important contribution to science, a map and paper in which he proved that the existing maps entirely misrepresented the physical features of Asia; the main structural lines were in fact from south-west to north-east, not from north to south, or from east to west as had been previously supposed. During this work, he was offered the secretaryship of the Society, but he had decided that it was his duty not to work at fresh discoveries but to aid in diffusing existing knowledge among the people at large. Accordingly, he refused the offer and returned to St. Petersburg, where he joined the revolutionary party.[citation needed]

[edit] Activism

He visited Switzerland in 1872 and became a member of the International Workingmen's Association (IWA) at Geneva. It was there that he found that he did not like IWA's style of socialism. Instead, he studied the programme of the more radical Jura federation at Neuchtel and spent time in the company of the leading members, and definitely adopted the creed of anarchism. On returning to Russia, he took an active part in spreading revolutionary propaganda through the nihilist-led Circle of Tchaikovsky.

Kropotkin circa 1900

In 1873 Kropotkin was arrested and imprisoned in the Peter and Paul Fortress. He gained notoriety for his widely publicized escape from the prison in 1876, after which he went to England, moving after a short stay to Switzerland, where he joined the Jura Federation. In 1877 he moved to Paris, where he helped to start the socialist movement. In 1878 he returned to Switzerland, where he edited for Jura Federation's revolutionary newspaper Le Rvolt, and published various revolutionary pamphlets. He was a outspoken on his beliefs that the peasants were being treated unfairly and deserved to have the same land as the lords

In 1881 shortly after the assassination of Tsar Alexander II, the Swiss government expelled Kropotkin from Switzerland. After a short stay at Thonon (Savoy), he went to London, where he stayed nearly a year, and returned to Thonon in late 1882. Soon he was arrested by the French government, tried at Lyon, and sentenced by a police-court magistrate (under a special law passed on the fall of the Paris Commune) to five years' imprisonment, on the ground that he had belonged to the IWA (1883). The French Chamber repeatedly agitated on his behalf, and he was released in 1886. He settled near London, living at various times in Harrow – where his daughter, Alexandra, was born – Ealing and Bromley (6 Cresent Road 1886-1914)[4]. He also lived for a number of years in Brighton.[citation needed]. While living in London, Kropotkin became friends with a number of prominent English-speaking socialists, including William Morris and George Bernard Shaw.

In 1902 Kropotkin published the book Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution, which provided an alternative view on animal and human survival, beyond the claims of interpersonal competition and natural hierarchy proffered at the time by some "social Darwinists", such as Francis Galton.

In the animal world we have seen that the vast majority of species live in societies, and that they find in association the best arms for the struggle for life: understood, of course, in its wide Darwinian sense– not as a struggle for the sheer means of existence, but as a struggle against all natural conditions unfavourable to the species. The animal species, in which individual struggle has been reduced to its narrowest limits, and the practice of mutual aid has attained the greatest development, are invariably the most numerous, the most prosperous, and the most open to further progress. The mutual protection which is obtained in this case, the possibility of attaining old age and of accumulating experience, the higher intellectual development, and the further growth of sociable habits, secure the maintenance of the species, its extension, and its further progressive evolution. The unsociable species, on the contrary, are doomed to decay.

Peter Kropotkin, Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution (1902), Conclusion.

Kropotkin in Haparanda, 1917

Kropotkin's authority as a writer on Russia is generally acknowledged, and he contributed to many articles. Most of the other 90 articles are about various aspects of Russian geography.

Kropotkin returned to Russia after the February Revolution and was offered the ministry of education in the provisional government; he rejected the post. His enthusiasm for the changes happening in the Russian Empire turned to disappointment when the Bolsheviks seized power in the October Revolution. "This buries the revolution," he said. He thought that the Bolsheviks had shown how the revolution was not to be made; by authoritarian rather than libertarian methods. He had spoken out against authouritarian socialism in his writings (for example The Conquest of Bread), making the prediction that any state founded on these principles would most likely lead to its breakup and the restoration of capitalism. This prediction preceded the Revolutions of 1989 by nearly 100 years.

He died on February 8, 1921, in the city of Dmitrov, Moscow province and was buried at the Novodevichy Cemetery, Moscow. Anarchists marched in his funeral procession carrying banners with anti-Bolshevik slogans, at Lenin's approval, since he feared new unrest otherwise. This was the last march by anarchists until 1987, when glasnost saw them hold the first open free protest against Bolshevik state Communism for over sixty years in Moscow.

[edit] Philosophy

Kropotkin's inspiration has reached into the 20th and 21st centuries as a vision of a new society based on the anarchist principles of anti-statism and anti-authoritarianism, the communist principles of the publicly owned means of production and his zoological theories on the mutual aid between all species and individuals. It is often positioned as a counter to the thinking of Trotsky, Lenin and Stalin which tended to imply centralised planning and control. To a large degree Kropotkin's emphasis is on local organisation, local production obviating the need for central government. Kropotkin's vision is also on agriculture and rural life, making it a contrasting perspective to the largely industrial thinking of communists and socialists.

In his book Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution, Kropotkin explored the widespread use of cooperation as a survival mechanism in human societies through their many stages, and animals. Written in accessible language, he used many real life examples in an attempt to show that the main factor in facilitating evolution is cooperation between individuals in free-associated societies and groups, without central control, authority of compulsion.

This was in order to counteract the conception of fierce competition as the core of evolution, that provided a rationalization for the dominant political, economic and social theories of the time; and the prevalent interpretations of Darwinism.

His observations of cooperative tendencies in indigenous peoples, pre-feudal, feudal and those remaining in modern societies, allowed him to conclude that not all human societies were based on competition such as those of industrialized Europe; and that in many societies, cooperation was the norm between individuals and groups. He also concluded that in most pre-industrial and pre-authoritarian societies (where he claimed that leadership, central government and class did not exist) actively defend against the accumulation of private property, for example, by equally sharing out, amongst the community, a person's possessions when he has died; or not allowing a gift to be sold, bartered or used to create wealth. See Gift economy.

In another of his books, The Conquest of Bread, Kropotkin proposed a system of economics based on mutual exchanges made in a system of voluntary cooperation. He believed that should a society be socially, culturally and industrially developed enough to produce all the goods and services required by it, then no obstacle, such as preferential distribution, pricing or monetary exchange will stand as an obstacle for all taking what they need from the social product. The king pin in this idea is the eventual abolishment of money or tokens to exchange for goods and services. He further developed these ideas in Fields, Factories and Workshops.

Kropotkin points out what he considers to be the fallacies of the economic systems of feudalism and capitalism, and how he believes they create poverty and scarcity while promoting privilege. He goes on to propose a more decentralised economic system based on mutual aid and voluntary cooperation, asserting that the tendencies for this kind of organisation already exist, both in evolution and in human society.

His focus on local production leads to his view that a country should strive for self-sufficiency– manufacture its own goods and grow its own food, lessening dependence on imports. To these ends he advocated irrigation and growing under glass to boost local food production ability.

[edit] Timeline

  • 1842 - born in Moscow, Russia, on December 9.
  • 1857 - joins the Corps of Pages where he begins to develop a rebellious reputation.
  • 1858 - Peter's early writings show interest in political economy and statistics; begins contact with "real" peasants.
  • 1861 - Peter has his first prison experience as a result of participating in a student protest.
  • 1862 - becomes disillusioned with royalty when as page de chambre to the tsar he witnesses the extravagances of court life.
  • 1862–1867 - at his own request serves with the military in Siberia. Witnesses the living conditions there, and the unwillingness of the corrupt administration to do anything to improve this.
  • 1868–1870 - pursues survey and geographical studies.
  • 1871 - becomes interested in the workers' movement and the events surrounding the Paris Commune.
  • 1872 - travels to Switzerland, where he joins the International; returns to Russia with a quantity of prohibited socialist literature.
  • 1873 - as a member of the Chaikovskii Circle, he helps with rewriting pamphlets in a way that can be understood by the uneducated; he shows great ability for communicating with the workers.
  • 1874 - Peter is imprisoned in the Peter and Paul Fortress because of his revolutionary activities. At the intervention of the Geographical Society, he is given special dispensation to work on a paper on glacial periods.
  • 1876 - escapes from a military hospital and moves to England.
  • 1877 - returns to Switzerland to work with the Jura Federation. Attends the last meeting of the First International in Ghent.
  • 1881 - attends the International Anarchist congress in London. In his propaganda of the deed he supports the assassination of Tsar Alexander II on the grounds that an explosion is far more effective than a vote in encouraging the workers to revolution. This gets him kicked out of Switzerland. The Russian government is embarrassed when he discovers a plot to assassinate him in London.
  • 1882 - shortly after moving to France he is arrested for his work in The First International and sentenced to five years in prison. He stays there until 1886 when he is released on condition that he leave France.
  • 1886 - returns to England. Learns of his brother Alexander's suicide in Siberian exile for political activity. Becomes co-founder of British anarchist magazine Freedom.
  • 1890s - spends most of his time writing. Visits Canada and the United States in 1897. The Atlantic Monthly agrees to publish his memoirs. In his books he attempts to develop an anarchist-communist view of society.
  • 1901–1909 - writes material in Russian for readers in his homeland. He was very disappointed by the failure of the 1905 revolution.
  • 1909–1914 - returns to Switzerland on condition that he refrain from anarchist activities. Tries to publicize the massacre of 270 workers at the Lena gold mines, but this activity is cut short by World War I. He then moved to the United Kingdom, where he spent some time in the Brighton area.
  • 1914–1917 - actively supports the war against Germany, and coauthors the Manifesto of the Sixteen. This position, a strange and questionable one for an anarchist to take, alienated him from many of his associates, particularly Errico Malatesta.
  • 1917 - returns to Petrograd where he helps the Kerensky government to formulate policy. He curtails his activity when the Bolsheviks come to power.
  • 1921 - his funeral at the Novodevichy Cemetery, with Lenin's approval, becomes the last mass gathering of anarchists in Russia until 1987.

[edit] Works

[edit] Books

[edit] Articles

  • "Research on the Ice age", Notices of the Imperial Russian Geographical Society, 1876.
  • "The desiccation of Eur-Asia", Geographical Journal, 23 (1904), 722-741.
  • Mr. Mackinder; Mr. Ravenstein; Dr. Herbertson; Prince Kropotkin; Mr. Andrews; Cobden Sanderson; Elise Reclus, "On Spherical Maps and Reliefs: Discussion", The Geographical Journal, Vol. 22, No. 3. (Sep., 1903), pp. 294–299, JSTOR
  • "Baron Toll", The Geographical Journal, Vol. 23, No. 6. (Jun., 1904), pp. 770–772, JSTOR
  • "The population of Russia", The Geographical Journal, Vol. 10, No. 2. (Aug., 1897), pp. 196–202, JSTOR
  • "The old beds of the Amu-Daria", The Geographical Journal, Vol. 12, No. 3. (Sep., 1898), pp. 306–310, JSTOR

[edit] Pamphlets

[edit] See also

[edit] References

  1. ^ Wilde, Oscar, "De Profundis", The Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, Collins.
  2. ^ "Kropotkin, Peter Alekseyevich." Encyclopdia Britannica. Encyclopaedia Britannica Ultimate Reference Suite. Chicago: Encyclopdia Britannica, 2010.
  3. ^ Roger N. Baldwin, "The Story of Kropotkin's Life," in Kropotkin's Anarchism: A Collection of Revolutionary Writings, ed. by Baldwin (Orig. 1927; Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, Inc., 1970), p. 13.
  4. ^ Bromley Council guide to blue plaques
  5. ^ Russian Literature: Ideals and Realities entry at the Anarchy Archives

[edit] Further reading

  • The Anarchists by James Joll (2nd ed.) (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1980) LCCN 80-010503. ISBN 0674036417. [historical book]
  • The Anarchist Prince: A Biographical Study of Peter Kropotkin by George Woodcock & Ivan Avakumovic (1950 & 1971).
  • "Mutual Aid and the Foraging Mode of Thought: Re-reading Kropotkin on the Khoisan" by Barnard Alan, Social Evolution & History, Vol. 3, No. 1 (March 2004), pages 3–21.
  • Kropotkin: the Politics of Community by Brian Morris (Humanity Press, 2004)
  • The Anarchist Geographer: an Introduction to the Life of Peter Kropotkin by Brian Morris (Genge Press, 2007)
  • Basic Kropotkin: Kropotkin and the History of Anarchism by Brian Morris, Anarchist Communist Editions pamphlet no.17 (The Anarchist Federation, October 2008).
  • S.J.Gould: Kropotkin was no crackpot. Natural History 106 (June 1997): 12-21.

[edit] External links

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