Piotr Alexeyevich Kropotkin (Moscow, December 9, 1842 – Dmitrov, February 8, 1921) was a Russian geographer, economist, political scientist, sociologist, zoologist, historian, philosopher, and political activist, one of the main thinkers of anarchism at the end of the 19th century, also considered the founder of the anarcho-communist strand. His profound analyses of state bureaucracy and the prison system are also relevant in the field of criminology.
He wrote books now considered classics of libertarian thought, among which are The Conquest of Bread (Хлеб и воля) and Memoirs of a Revolutionary (Записки революционера), both published in 1892, Fields, Factories and Workshops (Поля, фабрики и мастерские), from 1899, and Mutualism: A Factor of Evolution (Взаимопомощь как фактор эволюциии), published in 1902. For a long period, he also contributed to the Encyclopedia Britannica, having authored the entry “Anarchism,” among others.
Born a prince, a member of the former royal family of Rurik, in adulthood Kropotkin rejected this title of nobility because of his disappointment with the erudition of the aristocrats. As a teenager he was forced to join the Russian imperial army by order of Tsar Nicholas I himself. At the same time, he came into contact with the revolutionary literature of the time.
Interested in geography, he became an explorer of the Arctic Circle, covering thousands of kilometers on foot and recording different phenomena related to the tundra and other Arctic landscapes. On his many travels he came into contact with and sympathized with peasants living in miserable conditions in Russia and Finland. This feeling of solidarity made Kropotkin abandon his research activities. He traveled to Eastern Europe and made contact in several countries with activists and revolutionaries, among them associates of Bakunin and followers of Marx. In Geneva, he became a member of the First International and then left for the Jura at the invitation of an anarchist who told him how strong the movement had become in that region. He studied the revolutionary program of the Anarchist Federation of Jura, returning to Russia with the intention of spreading it among libertarian activists and marginalized populations. In Russia he went back to doing scientific research, taking part in different areas of libertarian activism.
He was arrested several times for his militancy. His writings were published by hundreds of newspapers around the world. His funeral, in February 1921, constituted the last great gathering of anarchists in Russia, since Russia, since the 1917 revolution, was under the domination of the Marxist Bolsheviks, who started to persecute, exile, and annihilate libertarian activists wherever they were found.
Kropotkin was born in the city of Moscow on December 21, 1842, into a family of Russian nobility. His father, Prince Alexei Petrovich Kropotkin, owned large tracts of land spread over three Russian provinces, with more than twelve hundred servants in his service. The genealogical lineage of which he and his father were part traced back to the royal house of Rurik that ruled Moscow before the Romanovs.
His mother, Yekaterina Nikolaevna Sulima, was the daughter of an important Russian general, who despite this fact received an open education and was mainly interested in artistic activities such as literature and painting. Sulima was partly responsible for the early education of young Piotr, who in his early teens, spent between Moscow and the family”s country house in Kaluga, came into contact with the writings of Pushkin, Nekrasov, and Chernyshevsky, thanks to the tutors chosen by his mother for his education.
By order of Tsar Nicholas I himself, in 1857, at the age of twelve he had to join the Staff Corps in St. Petersburg, which at the time was the most select academy in all of Russia providing education for only 150 boys, mostly sons of the palace royalty. The main purpose of this institution was to train the most elite advisors and officials of the Russian Empire.
Although Kropotkin detested the military discipline of his school and quickly acquired a reputation as a rebel, his academic training was intensive, guided by a matrix of rationalist and liberal education with a strong emphasis on science. In this institution he studied astronomy, physics, history, literature, and philosophy. It was also here that he got to know the work of the French encyclopedists and had his first contact with the evolutionist ideas of Jean-Baptiste de Lamarck, which would so marked his scientific education.
In 1858, Kropotkin had also had his first contact with revolutionary ideas, when he read Herzen”s journal, The North Star.
With a feeling bordering on veneration I used to look at the medallion printed on the first page of “The North Star,” representing the noble heads of the five Tenembrists hanged by Nicholas I after the December 14, 1825 rebellion: Bestuzhev, Kajovski, Pestel, Rileiev, and Muravief Apostol.
Military in Siberia
Upon completion of his training in 1862, he had to serve in the Russian Army, and could choose which regiment he wished to serve in. He chose the Siberian Cossacks, who were assigned to an expedition to Siberia to ensure Tsarist control over the newly conquered Amur region. Although Kropotkin could have chosen a more comfortable destination, he opted for the Siberian expedition, also in order to get away from Russian court life in the capital, which he found unpleasant and oppressive. His training required him to be personal page to the then Tsar Alexander II for a period of two years, which allowed Kropotkin to witness the extravagances of court life, a lifestyle he came to despise.
He left for his destination in Irkutsk on June 24, 1862, and was appointed aide-de-camp to General Kukel. They finally settled in the village of Chitá, the capital of the region. Kukel had been appointed as governor of Transbaikal, having previously established friendly relations with Bakunin.
The five years I spent in Siberia were very instructive to me in regard to human character and life. I found myself brought into contact with men of all conditions, the best and the worst; those on the cusp of society and those who vegetated at its very bottom; that is, the vagabonds and the so-called callous criminals. I had plenty of occasion to observe the habits and customs of the peasants in their daily labor, and even more, to appreciate how little the official administration could do in their favor, even when animated with the best intentions.
His main task was to make an assessment of the cruel Siberian prison for reform. This experience impressed him deeply, mainly because he was forced to face the shortcomings of the state bureaucracy and administrative corruption. At the same time it also enabled him to observe the first forms of direct and autonomous cooperation between peasants and hunters. Despite an effort to improve the prison system, the reforms Kropotkin suggested on the basis of his research were never implemented.
In Siberia he met the Russian poet Mikhail Larionovich Mikhailov, who had been condemned to forced labor for his revolutionary ideas. It was Mikhailov who first introduced him to anarchist ideas by recommending that he read Proudhon. Contact with Proudhon”s System of Economic Contradictions (Or Philosophy of Misery) and the commentaries of N. Sokolov were largely responsible for the young Kropotkin”s conversion to libertarian socialism. These years in Siberia were instrumental in the development of Kropotkin”s political thought:
Even if I had not phrased my remarks in terms analogous to those used by militant groups, I can now say that I have lost in Siberia all faith I might have had in state discipline before, and the ground is now prepared for me to become an anarchist.
Scientific travels and discoveries
Between 1864 and 1866, he made several exploratory trips into the as-yet unmapped territory of Manchuria. The last expedition was the most fruitful in its scientific aspect, including the mountainous region of northern Siberia between the Lena and Amur rivers. This trip provided important scientific knowledge, aiding in a remarkable way in the knowledge of the geographical structure of the Siberian region. The discovery of fossil remains contributed to the later elaboration of glacial theories, expanded knowledge about the Siberian fauna, providing Kropotkin with data on mutual support (or intraspecific cooperation) and altruism in animal societies. Finally, he discovered the Chitá route and the region from Lake Baikal to the northern tundra.
An insurrection of Polish prisoners in Siberia and their cruel suppression by the tsarist authorities were decisive in the abandonment of military service by Kropotkin and his brother Alexandro. They returned to St. Petersburg in 1867, when he entered the University and presented to the Russian Geographical Society a report on his Victim expedition that was published and won him a gold medal. He was appointed secretary of the Physical Geography section of the Russian Geographical Society. He explored the glaciers of Finland and Sweden on behalf of this association between the years 1871 and 1873. His most important work at this time was his study of the orographic structure of Asia, refuting the conjectural type hypotheses based on the alpine model suggested by Alexander von Humboldt. Although other researchers later discovered more complex structures, the general lines of Kropotkin”s approach have remained in force until today.
In 1873, he published an important contribution to science; a map in which he proved that all existing maps up to that time misrepresented the physical structure of the Asian continent; the main structural lines actually ran from the southwest toward the northwest, not from north to south or east to west as was believed. Another work of great importance was the report he wrote on the results of his expedition to Finland. In 1874, he presented at a conference his theory about how the ice cap of glaciation had reached the center of Europe, an idea that ran counter to the conventional wisdom of his day. His proposition was met with controversy, until it was later accepted by the scientific community. Finally, Kropotkin”s third major contribution to the theory of geographical science was his hypothesis on the division of Eurasia as a consequence of the receding glaciation of the preceding era. All these ideas were conceived before he was thirty years old, which presupposed a great future as a scientific researcher. The prestige of his geographical work was so considerable that he was invited to be president of the Physical Geography section of the Russian Geographical Society. Kropotkin, however, did not accept the invitation, because his interest had turned to revolutionary activities:
In the autumn of 1871, being in Finland, I was walking slowly on foot along the coast, off the newly built railroad, carefully observing the stops from where first must have appeared the unmistakable evidences of the primitive expanse of the sea which followed the glacial period. I received a telegram from the aforesaid corporation, which said, “The Council requests that you accept the position of secretary of the Society.” At the same time, the outgoing secretary earnestly begged me to welcome the proposition. My expectations had been realized; but at the same time, other ideas and other aspirations had invaded my thoughts. After pondering how I should proceed, I telegraphed, “I thank you very much, but I cannot accept.
During his researches through the Arctic Circle Kropotkin covered about 50 thousand miles. Important discoveries resulted from this long fieldwork, not only for Geography, but also for a better understanding of the geological processes that shaped those landscapes, as well as, in a broader sense, the natural history of planet Earth itself.
Among revolutionaries in Switzerland
Still during his period of scientific investigations in the Arctic Circle, Kropotkin also devoted himself to the study of the main social and political theorists of his time. After learning of the events of the Paris Commune in 1871, he became increasingly interested in the labor movement. At the same time, during his long trips through Russia and Finland he came across the terrible misery in which the peasants lived in those regions. Living with these populations aroused in him such a degree of solidarity that he abandoned scientific activity in search of a revolutionary solution:
But what right had I to enjoy a high order, when all that surrounded me was nothing but misery and struggle for a sad portion of bread, when no matter how little I spent to live in that world of pleasant emotions, I had to pluck it from the very mouths of those who grew wheat and did not have enough bread for their children? Force must be taken from someone”s mouth, since the aggregate production of mankind remains still so limited, and so I objected negatively to the Geographical Society.
The inheritance received after his father”s death gave him access to abundant economic resources, which allowed him to make a trip to Eastern Europe that would last three months. He left St. Petersburg in February 1872 and his first destination was the Swiss city of Zurich, with the objective of establishing contact with sectors of the organized European movement and to learn about their situation. There he met a group of Russian exiles strongly influenced by Mikhail Bakunin”s ideas. Among them were a woman from his family, Sofia Nicolaevna Lavrov, Nadeshdna Smezkaia, and Mikhail Sazhin (a Bakunin disciple better known as Armand Ross).
In Geneva he became a member of the First International, initially contacting Marxist sectors, especially the Russian group led by Nicolai Utin. However, it didn”t take long for him to find strange the type of socialism of the Marxists and their political strategies within the First International. After five weeks of this contact, very upset by the opportunist behavior of its leaders, he decided to get to know the Bakuninist tendency groups.
I could not reconcile this tossing and turning of the bosses with the heated speeches I had heard on the rostrum, which produced such a disappointment in me that I indicated to Utin my intention to put myself in contact with another grouping of the International Association of Geneva, which was known as the Bakuninist, because the word anarchist was not yet very widespread. Utin gave me in the act four letters to another Russian named Nicolai Zhukovski, who was part of it, and looking me fixedly in the eyes, he said sighing, “You will no longer return to our side; you will stay with them.” And he got his prognosis right.
The anarchist Nicolai Zhukovsky recommended that he leave Geneva and travel to Jura, where the anarchist movement was strongest. There Kropotkin studied the more radicalized program of the Jura Federation in Neuchâtel and spent much time in the company of its most prominent members, definitively adopting the anarchist ideals. This federation formed mostly by Swiss watchmakers was an association without political ambitions, and which made no distinctions between leaders and grassroots militants.
In Jura he met the historian James Guillaume, of whom he became a long-time friend, and later Bakunin”s first biographer. Although they shared the same nationality, Kropotkin never met Bakunin personally. The influence of the thought of that great Russian revolutionary was visible throughout the federation. The impression made on Kropotkin by this experience was tremendous:
The egalitarian relations I found in the Jura Mountains, the freedom of action and thought that I saw developing among the workers, and their unlimited devotion to the cause touched my feelings strongly; and when I had to leave the mountains, after staying a week with the watchmakers, my views on socialism were established: I was an Anarchist.
By early May 1872, he was back in Russia, carrying in his luggage writings by revolutionary authors, most of them banned in the country. Once in St. Petersburg he resumed his geographical investigations, and began to work actively as a propagandist for the revolution, establishing a strong link with the Tchaikovsky Circle to which he had been invited by the geographer Dimitri Klements. As a member of the Circle, he rewrote political pamphlets in a language more accessible than the ones printed until then, with the aim of making them accessible even to people with precarious degrees of education.
The Tchaikovsky Circle, which had begun its activities as a small group of young people, had expanded considerably by the time of Kropotkin”s arrival. Its members met in the home of Sofia Perovskaya, a woman from an aristocratic family who had abandoned her home for her revolutionary ideas and had joined the organization with the aim of improving her knowledge of social criticism. In 1869, Nechayev had tried to form a secret revolutionary organization among the youth, imbued with the aforementioned desire to work among the people the idea of insurrection and political sacrifice carried to its ultimate consequences. In Kropotkin”s opinion, these procedures could not prosper in Russia. Soon this organization was dissolved, all its members were arrested, and some of the most enthusiastic and determined young men were sent into exile in Siberia before they could even perform a single action. The Tchaikovsky Circle had formed in opposition to the organization and strategies proposed by Nechayev, focusing its efforts on the improvement and mutual education of its members, as well as on a personal moral development.
It was because of this that the Tchaikovsky Circle, gradually widening its field of action, had spread so far in Russia and had acquired such important results; and later, when the fierce persecutions of the government created a revolutionary struggle, it had produced that remarkable class of men and women who so bravely succumbed in the terrible contest they waged against the autocracy.
Although he continued to collaborate with the Russian Geographical Society in St. Petersburg, his attention was turned to libertarian action: disguised as a peasant and using the false name Borodin, he attended the nightly meetings of the Tchaikovsky Circle. During his participation, he saw many of his companions arrested by the Tsar”s political police.
During the years I have been speaking there have been many arrests, both in St. Petersburg and in the provinces. Not a month went by without us experiencing the loss of someone, or learning that certain members of this or that provincial group had disappeared. Towards the end of 1873, arrests became more and more frequent. In November, one of our main centers, located in a neighborhood on the outskirts of the capital, was raided by the police. We lost Peróvskaia and three other friends, and had to suspend all our relations with the workers in that area. We founded a new meeting place further away, but soon had to abandon it. The police were extremely vigilant, and the presence of a student in the workers” neighborhoods was immediately warned, and spies circulated among the workers, who were not to be overlooked. Dimitri, Klementz, Serguey and I, with our samarra and our peasant looks, passed unnoticed, and continued to frequent the terrain guarded by the enemy; but they, whose names had acquired great notoriety in these neighborhoods, were the object of all searches; and if it was said casually in one of the night registers at the house of some friend, they immediately ended up arrested.
Arrest and Escape
At the end of 1873, the day after he resigned as president of the Geographical Society, Kropotkin was arrested by the police. He had been snitched on by a worker who had become a police informant.
The night passed with no news. I leafed through my papers, destroyed anything that might compromise anyone, gathered my things and set out, and went downstairs quickly, leaving the house. At the door there was nothing but a rented carriage; I climbed into it, and the driver took me to Nevsky Prospekt. At first no one was chasing us, and I considered myself safe; but before long I noticed that another carriage was running at full speed behind ours, and the horse that was leading us had to slow down, and the other carriage took our lead. And I saw with surprise one of the two weavers who had been arrested, accompanied by another person. He signaled to me with his hand, as if he had something to tell me, and I ordered the coachman to stop. Perhaps,” I thought, “he has been set free and has something important to tell me. But as soon as we stopped, the one accompanying the weaver – it was a policeman – shouted, “Lord Borodin, Prince Kropotkin, you are under arrest!” He made a sign to the guards, abundant in the main streets of St. Petersburg, and at the same time jumped into my carriage and showed me a piece of paper with the seal of the capital”s police, saying at the same time, “I have an order to bring you before the governor general for an explanation.
Taken to the offices of the secret political police, the Third Section, he was interrogated for several days. His arrest caused a sensation in St. Petersburg, even more so in the face of the Tsar”s irritation, since Kropotkin had for some time been his personal aide. Several newspapers identified with the Russian elites began to spread information that Prince Kropotkin was suffering from some kind of madness. The label “mad” would be associated with his name among the nobles and bourgeois of Russia for a long time. In the meantime, he was imprisoned in the Peter and Paul Fortress in a solitary, dark, dank cell. The notables of the Russian Geographical Society, his friends, and especially his brother Alexandro intervened on his behalf to be allowed to continue his geographical research, so that he could have access to books, papers, and pencils.
In early 1875, his brother was also arrested by the Tsarist regime for writing a letter to Piotr Lavrovich Lavrov. Alexandro would be sent to Siberia, spending twelve painful years in exile in the small village of Minusinsk. At the end of this period, unable to stand the ostracism any longer, he committed suicide. The imprisonment of his brother and the disarticulation of revolutionary circles – at least two thousand arrests were made in Russia – produced, at that moment, a psychological collapse in Kropotkin, who became depressed. As a result of the depression, his physical condition worsened, increasing the damage caused by scurvy.
In March 1876, they transferred him to St. Petersburg Prison, where the living conditions were more unhealthy than in the fortress, even though there were much better facilities for receiving visitors and breaking isolation. But his physical deterioration worsened, and he was in danger of dying. The doctors recommended that he be transferred to the hospital adjacent to the St. Petersburg Military Prison. The move to a ventilated, bright and clean environment, with better nutrition, favored the recovery of his health. At this same time, his friends began to plan his escape from prison. After many preparations, through a system of signals with the outside, Kropotkin escaped by running through the prison yard, where he practiced daily exercises, by opening the gates that gave way to the wagons of the wood deliverers. Chased by the guards, he mounted a waiting carriage and got lost in the crowd.
With horror I saw that the carriage was occupied by a man dressed in plain clothes and wearing a military cap, who was sitting without turning his head in my direction. My first impression was that he had been sold. The comrades told me in their last letter, “Once you are on the street, don”t give yourself up; you will not lack friends to defend you in case of need.” I didn”t want to get on the coach if it was occupied by an enemy. But as I approached him, I noticed that the fellow had red hair ribs very similar to those of one of my best friends, who, although he did not belong to our circle, professed true friendship to me, which I reciprocated, and on more than one occasion I was able to appreciate his admirable valor, and how Herculean his strength was in times of danger. Is it possible,” I said, “that it is he? And I was about to pronounce his name, when, holding myself in time, I clapped my hands and kept running to attract his attention. Then he turned to me and I knew who it was. “Come up, come up soon!” – he shouted in a terrible voice, and then, addressing the coachman with revolver in hand, he shouted-, “At the gallop, at the gallop, or I”ll tear the flesh off your bones!” The horse was an excellent animal, bought expressly for the case, went off at a gallop. A crowd of voices resounded at our backs, shouting, “Halt! Stop them!” as my friend helped me put on an elegant coat and shoes.
Participating in the organization of the escape plan were Doctor Orestes Weimar, Mrs. Lavrov, and Stepniak, among others. The black mare that pulled the escape coach, christened “Barbara,” was also used in other later revolutionary feats, including helping Sergei Kravchinski, General Nikolai Mezentsov”s executioner, escape in 1878.
After being hidden momentarily in a house, he changed clothes and was taken to a barber shop where his copious beard was cut. Soon they set off toward a busy street in St. Petersburg and entered a fashionable restaurant in plain sight. After having a meal, they left in the middle of the night in the direction of a small village far away. Parallel to this, political security forces were conducting police raids on their friends” houses, without finding any leads. Dressed as a military officer, Kropotkin made his way to the small port of Vaasa on the Gulf of Bothnia to embark for Sweden and from there to Norway. From there he took a British steamship to the port of Hull in England.
In the first days of August 1876, Kropotkin disembarked at the port of Hull, under the false name of “Alexis Lavashov. He initially settled in Edinburgh, but soon moved to London, where he would have better possibilities to earn a living. He began to collaborate with The Times and with the prestigious journal Nature, making friends with James Scott Keltie, deputy editor of the journal. At the same time he began to correspond more frequently with James Guillaume in Switzerland. It was Guillaume who put him in touch with the libertarian educator Paul Robin, who at the time had become a notorious figure for his proposals for sexual reform, his advocacy of birth control, and his activism for an end to prostitution. Kropotkin and Robin held debates and discussions on social issues, and in these debates a puritanical facet of the former Russian prince”s thinking became evident.
After a short period in England, he settled in Switzerland, arriving in Neuchâtel in December 1876, and almost immediately joining the Jura Federation. There he met Carlo Cafiero and Errico Malatesta, the two most prominent members of the Italian section of the International. Determined to establish himself on the continent, he made a brief trip to England to deal with labor issues with Nature magazine, leaving on January 23 for Ostend and from there to Verviers, Belgium, with the intention of becoming an articulator of the movement in the region. But the expulsion of his friend Paul Brousse led Kropotkin to continue his trip to Geneva. There he met once again with Dimitri Klemetz, his long-time friend, and met another famous anarchist geographer, Élisée Reclus in the city of Vevey. Together with Brousse, and with the intention of disseminating anarchist philosophy and action to other regions of Switzerland, he launched the periodical L”Avant Garde (The Avant-Garde), which achieved relative success, and simultaneously another newspaper in the German language, the Arbeiterzeitung, which resulted in a great failure, ceasing publication a few months later. In Belgium he traveled to Verviers to attend the last congress of the Bakuninist section of the First International, where he acted as delegate for the Russians in exile and carried out the task of writing up the congress minutes. Due to rumors that he would be arrested, he had to abandon the congress, embarking from Antwerp for London.
From England he returned to France, where he made contact with Andrea Costa, continuing his studies on the French Revolution, which he had begun in London. Kropotkin”s clandestine activities attracted the attention of the repressive apparatus of the French state in early 1878, for which reason he had to return to Geneva at the end of April. Shortly thereafter he visited Spain, to familiarize himself with the situation of the movement in that country. The visit made a strong impression on him. It was the first time that he encountered a massive sector of the anarchist movement. After returning to Geneva in August, he immediately took part in a congress of Swiss anarchist groups in Fribourg, at which the appreciable decline of the Jura Federation became evident. On October 8, 1878, he married the young Russian émigré Sofia Ananiev. On December 10, the Swiss authorities closed the editorial office of L”Avant Garde, also arresting Brousse, albeit for a short time. Shortly thereafter, they decided to start a new periodical that would continue the work of the previous one. On February 22, Le Révolté appeared, which due to the lack of participants was almost entirely written by Kropotkin. The newspaper achieved immediate success, and by April 1879 it had 550 subscriptions, which allowed him to buy his own press on credit, founding the Imprimerie Jurassienne. Around the same time, he began printing a number of other periodicals, posters, and pamphlets. His main assistants were two workers, François Dumartheray and George Herzig, whom Kropotkin recalls with admiration in his Memoirs of a Revolutionary.
Theorist and propagandist
Through the pages of the periodical Le Révolté, Kropotkin presented the first formulations of anarcho-communism, his main theoretical contribution to the anarchist movement. The first article on the subject was published on December 1, and was entitled The anarchist idea from the point of view of its practical realization. The argument presented in it stated that the revolution should be based on federations of local communes and independent groups, with society evolving from a collectivist stage of appropriation of the means of production by the communes to communism. In 1880 he was invited by Élisée Reclus to collaborate on his work Universal Geography. In this same period, Piotr and Sofia moved to Clarens.
Here, where I came with my wife Sofia, with whom I conversed about all the events and the works done, and who exercised a severe literary criticism over the latter, is where I produced the best of my work for the “Révolté,” among which is the call “To the young,” which has achieved so much acceptance everywhere. In a word, in this place I laid the foundations and sketched the outlines of everything I wrote later on. In Clarens, in addition to the acquaintance with Élisée Reclus and Lefrançais, which I have always cultivated since then, I found myself in close contact with the workers, and still worked a great deal in geography, but ended up contributing on a larger scale and daily to anarchist propaganda.
In March 1881, his friend Stepniak informed him of the assassination of Tsar Alexander II by members of the Narodnaya Volya group. The repression of all groups identified with revolutionary ideals in Russia was terrible. The execution of his former companion from the Tchaikovsky Circle, Sofia Perovskaya, outraged Kropotkin, and in the midst of his indignation he printed a pamphlet The Truth About Executions in Russia, and also participated as a speaker at several protest rallies. These activities caused the Geneva police to interrogate him, but the institution finally decided not to arrest him. On July 10, he left for Paris and continued the journey to London to attend, as a delegate, the International Revolutionary Socialist Congress (also known as The Anarchist International). Due to Kropotkin”s poverty, his friend and comrade Varlaam Cherkesov took up a collection to pay for his trip. In a letter to Malatesta, Kropotkin presented his economic difficulties:
“Le Révolté” and everything else usually occupies me for a week, so that leaves me two weeks a month in which I have to earn one hundred and fifty to two hundred francs for the two of us, fifty francs for Robert, another forty francs for the Russians, thirty for correspondence, ten to fifteen for paper, etc.; in total more than three hundred francs.
Kropotkin attended the London congress, where he presented his formal support for the strategy of propaganda by the Act and the attentat, thus ratifying his support for the then recent execution of Tsar Alexander II of Russia by the Narodnaya Volya organization. Arguing that an action would be much more effective than any kind of vote or speech to awaken in the oppressed the need for revolution. At the end of the congress, Kropotkin openly declared himself disappointed by the chaotic tone of the discussions and because the theme for which he had originally been summoned – the formation of a new International – had not been addressed. He remained in England for a month and, at the end of this month, returned to Switzerland.
Soon after his return, he was expelled by the Swiss government partly due to diplomatic pressure from the Russian empire. However, before he left Geneva, he learned of a plan by the Russian secret police to assassinate him in London, a plan that was thwarted by his departure. He left Geneva on August 30 and settled in the small French village of Thonon on the shores of Lake Geneva. Herzig and Dumartheray were in charge of the editorial staff of Le Révolté. Nevertheless, he continued to contribute to this periodical as a long-distance contributor. They remained there for two months until Sofia finished her baccalaureate in Geneva.
In November 1881 he secretly returned with his wife to England, holding a few conferences on the way to Paris, and there he made contact with Jean Grave. In England, he refrained from speaking in public or contacting anarchists, meeting only discreetly with Malatesta, Cafiero, and Élisée Reclus. During 1882, he also established contact with two English Marxists, Ernest Belfort Bax and H.M. Hyndman. Hyndman introduced him to James Knowles, editor of the journal The Nineteenth Century, a publication in which he collaborated for three decades. He went on to write for Nature, The Times, and The Fortnightly Review, and was also invited to contribute to the Encyclopedia Britannica. In Le Révolté, he published two important articles: Law and Authority and Revolutionary Government. During his stay in England he wrote too much about the situation in Russia, expounding his reflections in workers” clubs and in some meetings he organized with exiled members of the Tchaikovisky circle; in this way they also expounded the anarchist ideal. His audience being initially sparse, the situation changed when he began to visit miners” circles in Scotland, where his exhibitions attracted a crowd of workers.
The depressing and apathetic atmosphere in London made the couple return to France, where the anarchist movement was flourishing and active, arriving in Thonon on October 26. There, Sophia”s young brother, who was in an agonizing state with an advanced case of tuberculosis, came to live with them. The revolutionary activities in Lyon, where there were around three thousand active anarchists, the disorders caused by the crisis in the silk industry, and some violent confrontations between workers and police were the excuse to arrest Kropotkin, who had nothing to do with the disturbances, along with sixty other anarchists. On December 21, 1882, Kropotkin was arrested by the police hours after the death of his young brother-in-law. During the funeral, Reclus and other anarchists gathered with the peasants of the region to protest the arrests.
The French government wanted to make this one of those great trials that make a strong impression on the country; but there was no way of involving the arrested anarchists in the cause of the explosions, so it was necessary to bring them before a jury which, with probity, ended up acquitting us, and as a result they adopted a Machiavellian policy of persecuting us for having belonged to the International Workingmen”s Association. There is a law in France, passed immediately after the fall of the Commune, by which anyone can be brought before an examining magistrate for having belonged to said association. The maximum sentence is five years, and the government is always assured that the ordinary court will be satisfied.
Prison in France
At the end of his trial on charges of belonging to the International, he was sentenced to five years in prison and a thousand franc fine for his anarchist activities; it was the most severe conviction of all. The independent press, and even moderate sections of the press like the Journal des Economistes, protested the convictions by criticizing the magistrates for convicting people without any basis or evidence of guilt. The anarchists, especially Bernard, Gautier, and Kropotkin, took advantage of the trial to publicize their ideas by making incendiary speeches against the economic and political elites of Europe.
He was sent from Lyon to the prison of Clairvaux in the old abbey of St. Bernard, where he was given the status of a political prisoner. During this period he continued to contribute to Universal Geography and the Encyclopædia Britannica, as well as continuing his contributions to The Nineteenth Century. One of the articles published in this journal entitled What Geography ought to be gained great notoriety at the time. The conditions of detention were this time not as harsh as when he was a prisoner in Russia, as the authorities allowed them to grow vegetables, play ball, and work in a bookbinding workshop. Kropotkin used the time to give language, math, physics, and cosmography classes to other inmates. They could write and receive letters, under a censorship regime. They could receive books and magazines, but not periodicals, and certainly not those with a revolutionary tendency.
Kropotkin received from Paris wishes of concern from the French Academy of Sciences, which offered to send him books for his investigations; from England also came shows of solidarity, a petition was drawn up in his favor, signed by fifteen university professors, the directors of the British Museum, the Royal Society of Mines, the Royal Geographical Society, the Encyclopædia Britannica, and nine English journals, as well as personalities of the time such as William Morris, Patrick Geddes, and Alfred Russel Wallace. The petition presented to the French Minister of Justice by the writer Victor Hugo was rejected. In late 1883, Kropotkin contracted malaria, a disease endemic to the region, which compromised his health for several months. In the meantime, Reclus collected Kropotkin”s articles published in Le Révolté into a single volume that was published in Paris in November 1885, entitled Words of a Rebel.
The petitions for Kropotkin”s freedom put so much pressure on the French government that Prime Minister Freycinet was forced to declare that “diplomatic reasons prevent the release of Kropotkin,” generating an even greater reaction from public opinion by admitting that the Tsar”s demands were capable of intervening in France”s interior politics. The French government had no choice but to pardon the detainees and release them on January 15, 1886. Kropotkin and Sofia, broken economically, moved to Paris, where they could obtain more adequate means of subsistence. To prevent possible deportation to Russia by the French government, Kropokin decided to settle in England, not without pronouncing on February 28, 1886, on the eve of his departure, the speech The anarchism and its place in the socialist evolution before several thousand people.
His experiences as a prisoner in Russia and France provoked in Kropotkin his rejection of all forms of incarceration as a supposed form of social and moral rehabilitation of prisoners. These impressions later gave shape to a text published in England in March 1887, In Russian and French Prisons. The first edition of this book was bought by Russian government agents to prevent its dissemination, and the Russian government succeeded in destroying most of the copies. Eventually the book was reprinted years later.
Today I have to shatter such illusions, I have been able to convince myself that, in terms of their effects on the inmate and their results for society in general, the best reformed prisons – whether or not they are divided into cells – are as bad, or even worse, than the filthy old prisons. They do not improve the inmate; on the contrary, in the vast and obscure majority of cases, they exert the most regrettable effects on them. The thief, the swindler, and the crook who has spent a few years in a penitentiary, come out of it more willing than ever to continue on the same path, making themselves better prepared for it, having learned to do their worst, being more incensed against society and finding a more solid justification for their rebellion against its laws and customs, for which reason they must necessarily and inevitably fall deeper and deeper into the abyss of antisocial acts than the first time they were brought before the judges.
Kropotkin and Sophia arrived in England in March 1886, and remained there for the next three decades. The couple settled in the suburbs of London, leading a life completely different from the previous years, calm and sedentary, dedicated to scientific research and theoretical development. This change in behavior was largely due to Kropotkin”s health, which had been greatly affected by his years in prison. The bad weather on the island made his clinical condition even worse, causing him to have chronic bronchitis attacks.
One of his first actions was to put together an editorial group. This group consisted of Charlotte Wilson, Dr. Burns Gibson, Piotr and Sofia, among other people. The group was called Freedom, was engaged in holding meetings and propaganda work, and later, in organizing a newspaper that bore their name. Previously, the group published its writings in the journal The Anarchist edited by Henry Seymour. Soon the intellectual influence of Kropotkin”s thought became more and more noticeable in the political positions of Saymour, who until then had declared himself a Tuckerian. In his journal, Saymour would publicly declare his commitment to anarchist communism. At this time, Kropotkin also befriended William Morris. In April of that same year, they settled in a modest house with little furniture in the Harrow area outside the City of London. From there, Piotr went on to contribute to various publications: The Nineteenth Century, Die Freiheit published by Johann Most, La Revolte (a periodical that succeeded Le Révolté), Nature, and The Times.
The group stopped contributing to The Anarchist after an argument with Seymour, and in October 1886 the first issue of Freedom was published. It was a four-page notebook written mainly by Kropotkin and Wilson, which would be printed until 1888 in the office of William Morris” Socialist League. Around this same time, Kropotkin suffered a severe setback when he received the news of the suicide of his brother Alexander on August 6, exiled and forgotten for twelve years in a small village in Siberia. Alexander”s death severed his last family ties with Russia.
The growth of socialist movements in England aroused public interest in anarchism, and Kropotkin was invited as a visiting professor to lecture in almost every major city in England and Scotland. During a visit to Edinburgh, he made friends with Patrick Geddes, whose thinking he strongly influenced.
On April 15, 1887, their only daughter was born, whom the couple named Alexandra, in memory of her uncle. That same year, a few months later, Kropotkin became involved and concerned about the death sentences handed down to anarcho-syndicalists accused of an attack in which a policeman died, which occurred in Haymarket in the United States. Kropotkin participated at various times in the campaign for the release of anarchist prisoners, speaking at a large event on October 14, alongside William Morris, George Bernard Shaw, Henry George and Stepniak. Although many similar mobilizations took place in major urban centers around the world, the defendants were executed by the United States government on November 11.
On November 13, they participated in a demonstration organized by William Morris in favor of free speech in Trafalgar Square, which ended in serious disturbances. In the meantime, the Freedom group was growing, not only in number of members, but also in influence in relation to the revolutionary movements. It was joined by former members of the Anti-Parliamentary Socialist League founded by Morris – who, although accepting Kropotkin”s perspective, never declared himself openly anarchist – formed from a split with the so-called parliamentary socialists organized around the figure of Eleanor Marx. However, relations between the Freedom group and the socialists of the Anti-Parliamentary League also deteriorated, leading to a progressive estrangement.
Writer, scientist and theorist
From 1890 on, Kropotkin”s activities as an agitator became increasingly rare, largely due to his advanced age, and his character as a thinker, intellectual, and scientist became predominant. He wrote for many libertarian periodicals such as Temps Noveaux (for which he collaborated freely) and other magazines such as the English publications The Speaker and The Forum, and the American ones The Atlantic Monthly, The North American Review and The Outlook. He held dozens of conferences, in cities such as Glasgow, Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh, Manchester, Darlington, Leicester, Plymouth, Bristol and Walsall. The topics were so diverse that, in addition to anarchist theory, he also dealt with literature, Russian politics, industrial organization, the prison system, naturalism, and the first expositions on his theory of mutualism.
When Huxley, wanting to fight against socialism, published in 1888 in “The Nineteenth Century”, his atrocious article “Struggle for Existence”, I decided to present in comprehensible form my objections to his way of understanding the said struggle, the same among animals as among men, material which I had been accumulating for six years. I spoke privately to my friends; but I made the point that the interpretation of struggle for existence, in the sense of the war-cry “Woe to the vanquished!” raised to the height of a rule of nature and revealed by science, was so deeply ingrained in this country, that it had become little less than a dogma.
In 1888, Kropotkin began writing his sociological work, separated into three articles published in The Nineteenth Century (“The fall of our industrial system;” “The Future Kingdom of Plenty;” and, “The Industrial City of the Future”) that would form the basis of the book Fields, Factories and Workshops, which he would later publish. At this time, he expounded in his lectures his ideas on free distribution, voluntary work and the abolition of the wage system, based on the principle: “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.
Throughout 1889, he wrote articles for Le Revolté and The Nineteenth Century on the French revolution and its consequences, and in March 1890 he published the essay Intellectual Labor and Manual Labor. Beginning in September 1890, he published in The Nineteenth Century the first essays in response to Thomas Henry Huxley, which would eventually be collected in what would become his most prestigious scientific work: Mutualism: A Factor of Evolution. During 1892, he wrote regular scientific outreach articles for this same periodical, exploring such diverse topics as geology, biology, physics, and chemistry; also published in France was The Conquest of Bread, with a preface written by Élisée Reclus. Around this time, Kropotkin”s reputation grew further, garnering great respect and success as a writer among the general public, as well as academic recognition that materialized in frequent invitations to deliver lectures on scientific topics at the British Association, the University of London, and the Teacher”s Guild. In 1894, Contemporary Review devoted to him a laudatory article entitled “Our Most Illustrious Political Refugee.
In 1892 the Kropotkin moved to Woodhurst Road, Acton, but in 1894 they moved again, settling in a cottage in Bromley, Kent. There they grew a vegetable garden, Piotr had his workshop where he made his own furniture, and an office whose walls were covered with books up to the ceiling, according to the description of Rudolf Rocker, who visited him in 1896. In his residence, he received visits from notable libertarians from all over the world such as the communard Louise Michel, the Spaniard Fernando Tarrida del Mármol, the writer and orator Emma Goldman, and Georg Brandes, among others.
The libertarian movement in England began to wane as the influence of parliamentary authoritarian socialism grew; in 1895 the Freedom Group, the Commonwealth Group and the Socialist League merged, with Alfred Marsh taking over as editor-in-chief from Charlotte Wilson. Kropotkin – who was considered by the general public more as a learned scholar than as an anarchist – continued to collaborate with the periodical, but without participating in its activities of propaganda, agitation or activism, embracing almost exclusively for himself the intellectual activity. During the International Socialist Congress in London in 1896, the anarchists were prevented from participating by the parliamentarians; at this moment a definitive split in the socialist movement was established. After protesting vigorously, the anarchists themselves organized a separate congress, although Kropotkin, due to health problems, did not participate very actively. The end of the year 1896 brought news that affected Kropotkin deeply: the death of his friends William Morris and Stepniak.
In 1897 he participated in the campaigns against the Spanish government, accused of torturing and murdering prisoners in the fortress of Montjuïc (Barcelona), but his health gradually worsened and Sofia herself replaced him as a lecturer in several events, something that would become increasingly common from then on. That year he traveled to North America through the English Society for the Sponsorship of Science, which was holding a meeting in Toronto, Canada. In the United States, he attended three conferences on mutualism at the Lowell Institute in Boston, and one more in New York. In the latter city, he met with Johann Most, Benjamin Tucker, and socialist leader Daniel de Leon. In Pittsburgh, he tried to visit Alexander Berkman who was in prison, but the authorities would not allow him to do so. He also began negotiations to publish his Memoirs of a Revolutionary in fascicles by the Atlantic Monthly magazine, which would later, in 1899, release the text in a single volume. At the same time he worked on updating and deepening the articles that would constitute the definitive edition of Fields, Factories and Workshops, also published that year. During the Boer War, Kropotkin publicly declared his opposition, denouncing the crimes of the English army, indifferent to the possibility of being expelled from the country.
He returned to the United States in 1901, visited Chicago, and held lectures at major universities and again at the Lowell Institute in Boston, where he spoke on Russian literature. His talks would soon be published as a book under the title Ideals and Realities of Russian Literature. In New York, he spoke at the Political Education League, and at the Cooper Union in front of 5,000 people and twice at a venue on Fifth Avenue. He also gave speeches at Harvard and Wellesley College. In addition, he attended several meetings and acts organized by his anarchist friends, always very crowded and lively. He returned to England in May and devoted himself entirely to his theoretical work, completing the last articles on Mutualism, which was finally published as a book in 1902.
His health crises, especially his bronchial infections, practically prevented him from returning to public life. In 1903 and 1904, he presented his geological theories at the Geographical Society. In 1904, he published The Ethical Necessity of the Present Time and, in 1905, The Moral of Nature. That year he also suffered a heart attack during an act of homage to the Tenembrists, which almost ended his life. The Russian Revolution of 1905 brought Kropotkin back to the affairs of his homeland. But in July he received news of the death of his friend Élisée Reclus; Kropotkin wrote articles in his memory for the Geographical Journal and Freedom. In the fall of 1907, he moved to a house in High Gate, where he finished his pending theoretical work, publishing in 1909 The Great French Revolution, Terror in Russia, and between 1910 and 1915 a series of articles in The Nineteenth Century on ethics and mutual aid, evolutionism, and on biological inheritance, siding with a neolamarckism and criticizing the ideas of August Weismann. These articles were Evolution and Mutual Aid, The direct action of the environment on plants, The response of animals to their environment (1910), The inheritance of acquired characteristics (1912), Inherited variations among plants (1914), and Inherited variations among animals (1915).
Russian Revolution of 1905
In the last years of the 19th century, the anarchist movement began to flourish in Russia, supported by the activity of Russian anarchist groups that had emigrated and exiled to Switzerland, France, and England. In 1903, in the city of Geneva, the periodical Khleb i volia (Bread and Freedom) began to be published, which, introduced illegally, became a medium of relative influence in Russia. Kropotkin and Varlaam Nikolaevich Cherkesov gave it their support by writing unsigned articles. If on the one hand Kropotkin”s theoretical influence among the anarchists in Russia was evident, on issues related to tactics and concrete political practice Kropotkin remained distant from them. His lack of a position on guerrilla and expropriation tactics (often called terrorism by statesmen and legalists) contrasted with the practices of many small anarchist groups that were active inside Russia, destabilizing the tsarist regime.
He later advocated for expropriation as a tactic, because the free people went to the warehouses and took the food and clothing they needed, always rationalizing. Regarding housing, he would reflect in the same way. Rents were to be suppressed, empty houses would be taken over by the families who had lived on the streets until then. Those who had vacant houses would have to give them to the people who needed them most.
He declared that all men and women have the right to social welfare. He formulated ideas such as a workload of five hours a day, with the rest of the time free to participate in recreational tasks of individual interest. People would start contributing to society at the age of 25 and stop doing so at 45.
He also demonstrated how countless associations function without the authority of the state, citing the Red Cross and the English Lifeboat Associations. And also, how the evolution of all these associations was dizzying, notorious and celebrated by all. In Kropotkin”s vision, instead of being the defender, the state is the oppressor and the cause of much of the harm done to the populations it governs.
He also presented a new and revolutionary idea that the people can be endowed with an organizing spirit. For how the people, far from being a mass of savages guided by their common sense, are capable of bringing about the new order in the absence of all forms of authority.
Kropotkin leaned toward anarcho-syndicalism, the mass movement, and participation in soviets (which at the time were popular assemblies, not Bolshevik organs of party authority). The tactical discussions led the Russian anarchists to hold two conferences, one being held in London in December 1904 and the other in October 1906. They also published a document entitled The Russian Revolution and Anarchism in 1907. In this document Kropotkin”s thought, influenced by the revolutionary events of 1905, had a strong presence. From then on Kropotkin began to think about returning to Russia to participate in the struggle against the autocracy. Kropotkin – as he confessed to Max Nettlau – in his free time practiced target practice with a rifle to keep in shape, and to participate in the street fights if he could return to Russia.
But his health continued to decline, and in the fall of 1911, he moved again, settling in Kemp Town, Brighton, his last home in England. For health reasons, Kropotkin had been spending the winters abroad for several years, so as not to suffer the bad weather. During these trips, he visited Paris and the Brittany region (France), Ascona, Bordighera, and Rapallo in Italy, and Locarno in Switzerland, whose climate relieved his chronic bronchitis. In 1912, he attended the International Eugenics Congress in London, where he expressed critical views against the idea of sterilizing people, advocated at the time by some scientists. That same year, he participated in the campaign against the deportation of Errico Malatesta to Italy, influencing John Burns, a liberal minister, to suspend the process. In December 1912, when he turned 70, he received emotional tributes and congratulations; one of them was celebrated at London”s Palace Theatre, with speeches by George Bernard Shaw, George Lansbury, and Josiah Wedgwood, among others.
After the 1905 revolution, anarchism in Russia experienced rapid growth, with dozens of different groups springing up across the country. Kropotkin”s works began to be edited both legally and illegally, his influence became ever greater among anarcho-communists and anarchists. The émigré periodical in which Kropotkin participated was dissolved and replaced by the khleb i Volia listki, for which he would collaborate together with Alexander Schapiro and Maria Goldsmith. However, in June 1907, he had to abandon this publication. He began to translate much of his work into Russian, such as the book The Great French Revolution, completed in 1914. Kropokin also collaborated as an editor for a periodical of exiled anarchist Russians called Rabochi Mir, as well as for some issues of the newspaper Khleb i volia, which had reappeared in 1910 in Paris.
World War I and the Sixteen Manifesto
During the years leading up to World War I, breaking with the traditional anti-Belicism of the anarchists, Kropotkin sided with Republican France in opposition to Bismarck”s German Empire, considered by him to be the greatest threat, as he thought it necessary to oppose Germany”s extremely militarized policy in every way in order to create a geopolitics. At the beginning of the conflict, there was a split between Kropotkin, Jean Grave and the anarchists who supported an intervention in the war, with the international anarchist movement taking a critical position – they were largely old friends of his, among them were Dumartheray, Herzig and Bertoni Luigi. This attitude led him into a dispute with the members of Freedom magazine, who published a letter from Malatesta in which he wove demolishing criticism aimed at Kropotkin”s warmongering, which represented the majority opinion of the anarchist movement.
In “Freedom” in November 1914, we find articles by Kropotkin, Jean Grave, Cherkesov, and a letter by the anarchist Verleben, all of which made arguments as to why anarchists should support the Allied cause. A contribution by Malatesta was destined to rebut the reasoning of the cited authors: “the anarchists have forgotten their principles.”
After a violent argument with Thomas Keell, director of Freedom magazine, Kropotkin, Varlaam Cherkesov, Sofia and other pro-Allied anarchists left the editorial group of which they were founders. Almost all the anarchists expressed their rejection of the war and their disagreement with Kropotkin, who was supported by Jean Grave, James Guillaume, Paul Reclus, Charles Malato, Christiaan Cornelissen; these signed a warmongering declaration known as the Manifesto of the Sixteen, and edited their own periodical, La Bataille Syndicaliste (The Syndicalist Battle). This manifesto was also answered by another manifesto opposing the war, signed by Malatesta, Shapiro, Emma Goldman, Alexander Berkman, Thomas Keell, and Rudolf Rocker, among others. Soon after, they would also express their criticism to the group of warmongering anarchists Luigi Fabbri, Émile Armand and Sébastien Faure.
And in 1916, Malatesta responds from the editorial columns of “Freedom” to the “Manifesto in favor of the war” signed by Kropotkin, Jean Grave, Malato and thirteen other “old comrades”: he recognizes the “good faith and intentions” of the authors and puts them “beyond doubt,” but states that he must dissociate himself from “comrades who consider themselves capable of reconciling anarchist ideas with the cooperation of the governments and capitalist classes of certain countries in their struggle against the capitalists and governments of certain other countries.”
Kropotkin and his group ended up practically isolated, not only within the anarchist movement, but also within the socialist movement in general. Kropotkin”s position was opportunely used by Lenin to label him as petty-bourgeois and patriotic, so that he could attack the anarchists, most of whom were opposed to the war. Kropotkin lost contact with his old anarchist friends and became a recluse in his residence until March 1917, when the first news arrived about the fall of Russian tsarism.
Return to Russia and death
After the February Revolution, Kropotkin decided to return to Russia, excited by the turn of events. In mid-1917 he embarked anonymously in Aberdeen bound for Bergen (Norway), but despite the secrecy, he was met by a demonstration of workers and students. Passing through Sweden and Finland, he entered Russia after 41 years. During the entire trip, he received demonstrations of support and affection in every village he passed through. He arrived in Petrograd by train at two o”clock in the morning, and there he was welcomed at the station by a military regiment, and a band playing La Marseillaise and a welcoming demonstration by more than 70,000 people.
This period was characterized by a frantic participation in events, lectures, and meetings, which severely affected his health. But not fully recovered his relationship with much of the libertarian movement, Kropotkin continued to insist that the war would ensure the achievements of the revolution, “which led him into ambiguous situations and companies. The vast majority of anarchists did not support the war, which is why he maintained occasional relations with the Mensheviks, and other warmongering constitutionalist parties apart from the revolutionary sector. Kerensky offered him a government post, a large monthly pension, and residence in the Winter Palace, but Kropotkin refused the offer with dignity, although he did not refuse to participate in his councils informally.In August, he left frantic Petrograd and settled in Moscow, participating shortly afterwards in the State Conference of all parties as a speaker, where he expressed his criticism of the Bolshevik policies, and in favor of continuing the war and establishing a federal republic. These reformist and moderate manifestations were used by the Bolsheviks to discredit Kropotkin and to counter-gun the anarchists. The October Revolution ended Kerensky”s rule, with the Bolsheviks taking power. The end of the war and the radicalization of the mass movement ended the ideological confusion that had gripped Kropotkin since his support for the Entente, and he returned to his anarchist principles. He dedicated himself to working for the Federalist League, a group of scholars of sociological problems that promoted federalism and decentralization, producing and disseminating statistical data and studies to the public, but in mid-1918, it was suppressed by the Bolshevik authorities. Although Kropotkin was not personally affected by the repression (since they considered him harmless), the Bolsheviks began their repression not only against the Menshevik and Social-Revolutionary opponents, but also against the anarchist groups, organizations and periodicals, which had supported the mass movement in the October Revolution. This situation and the end of the war, caused the Russian anarchist groups to come closer together again, Kropotkin re-established good relations with Gregori Maximoff, Volin and Alexander Shapiro.
In the spring of 1918, Kropotkin was visited by Nestor Makhno, leader of the anarchist peasants of Ukraine. In Dmitrov, he became responsible for reorganizing the local museum, and strove to complete his book Ethics (which despite his efforts would remain unfinished due to his health problems). Despite his opposition to the Bolsheviks, Kropotkin refused to support any forms of Western Allied intervention in Russian affairs. In early May 1919, he met with Lenin in Moscow, and made a defense of the cooperatives that the Bolsheviks were attacking, and also criticized the coercive methods and bureaucracy of the Bolsheviks, although the general tone of the meeting was cordial. He would later write to Lenin on three separate occasions in increasingly less cordial tones, his petitions and criticisms never even considered.
“Lenin is not comparable to any revolutionary figure in history. Revolutionaries had ideals. Lenin has nothing.”, his concrete actions are completely contrary to the ideas you pretend to hold.”
The Bolshevik methods caused Kropotkin to harden his criticism. This attitude was witnessed by visitors Alexander Berkman, Emma Goldman, Alexander Shapiro, Ángel Pestaña and Agustín Souchy Bauer and by the letters he wrote to Georg Brandes and Alexander Atabekian. He wrote in June 1920 a “Letter to the Workers of the Western World” where he exposed his anarchist conceptions and his lucid criticism of the Revolution. Also in 1920 he wrote a harsh letter to Lenin reproaching him with the practice of threatening prisoners of war with execution to protect himself from his opponents.
News has appeared in the newspapers Izvestia and Pravda announcing the decision of the Soviet government to take as hostages some members of the Cherkov and Savinkov groups of the Social Democratic Party, the nationalist tactical center of the White Army, and officers of Wrangel, so that in the event that an assassination attempt is made against one hundred and eight leaders of the soviets, these hostages will be “mercilessly exterminated. Is there no one among you who will remind your comrades and convince them that such measures represent a return to the worst period of the Middle Ages and religious wars, and is totally disappointing, the attitude of people who have turned their backs on the creation of society in accordance with communist principles? Anyone who wants the future of communism cannot condone such measures. I think they should take into account that the future of communism is more precious than their own lives. And I would be happy if with these reflections they would renounce these kinds of measures. Even with all these very serious shortcomings, the October Revolution brought enormous progress. It has been shown that the social revolution is not impossible, something that people in Western Europe are already beginning to think, and that despite its defects it is bringing some progress toward equality. Why then strike a blow at the revolution, pushing it down a path that will lead to its destruction, especially for flaws that are not inherent in socialism or communism, does this not represent the survival of the old order and the destructive effects of omnivorous unlimited authority?
In November, his health deteriorated further. On the 23rd of that month he wrote what would be his last letter to the Dutch anarchist P. de Reyger. In January he contracted pneumonia, which left him bedridden for the rest of his days. Despite medical care, he died at three o”clock in the morning of February 8, 1921 at his home in the city of Dmitrov.
The Bolshevik government offered Kropotkin an official funeral, but his family and libertarian friends refused the offer. Russian anarchist groups formed a funeral committee to organize the ceremony, among others included Alexander Berkman, Emma Goldman, and Alexandra Kropotkin. The local authorities allowed only two pamphlets to be published in his memory that had to go through prior censorship, but the anarchists disobeyed the order, reopened a press closed by the Cheka political police, and published the pamphlets without any censorship.
Hundreds of workers, students, peasants, officials, and soldiers went to Kropotkin”s small house to bid farewell to the old revolutionary. The schools remained closed as a sign of mourning, and children carried pine branches to the path of the motorcade carrying Kropotkin”s body. The coffin was taken to the railway station, and from there by train to Moscow. A crowd welcomed the procession and followed it to the Labor Palace. The anarchists pressed the government for the arrested anarchists to be provisionally released and to allow them to participate in the celebration. Kamenev promised to release the detainees if in return the anarchists would not turn the ceremony into a demonstration of repudiation of the government. Halfway through the ceremony, only seven of the arrested anarchists arrived, including Aarón Baron and Gregori Maximoff.
The crowd of over one hundred thousand people followed the procession on the 8 km route to the Novodévichi Cemetery. They were followed by an orchestra that performed Tchaikovsky”s Pathetique Symphony. Hundreds of flags of political parties, scientific societies, trade unions, and student organizations were flying among the competitors. Also flying were the large black flags of the anarchists, on which had been embroidered messages: “Where there is authority there is no freedom” and “The anarchists demand the liberation of the prisons of socialism. The black flag was also flying at the Tolstoy Museum, and as the demonstrators passed Butirka Prison, the political prisoners stretched out their arms through the barred windows to salute them. Once in the cemetery, the speakers were pronouncing their tributes; the last to speak was Aarón Barón, one of the anarchist prisoners temporarily released, who boldly protested against the Bolshevik government, the arrests and torture of revolutionary opponents.
Kropotkin”s funeral is considered by some historians of the libertarian movements to be the last massive manifestation of Russian anarchism that took place in the Soviet Union.
The basis for such a conception is found in the idea that the criterion for consumption (of both goods and services) of individuals is not labor, but necessity. Kropotkin thus advocated a system of free distribution of production, a concept that is linked to the reasoning that it is not possible to measure the isolated contribution of an individual to social production, and that, therefore, once realized, all of it should be socially enjoyed.
“Every discovery, every progress, every increase in human wealth is the result of intellectual and physical work done in the past and present. That being so, why can anyone be entitled to ownership of the smallest part of this enormous whole, and say this is mine, and not yours?”
Kropotkin, socialist that he is, sees the collectivization of the means of production as the goal of social transformation, but, unlike some, he infers that this phenomenon would inevitably be followed by free distribution and the extinction of any wage system. In such a society, production would be oriented toward consumption and not profit. And Kropotkin goes further in his considerations about this other form of sociability by envisioning a science dedicated to finding ways to reconcile and satisfy the needs of all.
For on the day when the old institutions are shattered under the axe of the proletariat, voices will be heard crying out: Bread for all! Home for all! Right to a comfortable life for all! And those voices will be heard. The people will say to themselves: We will begin by satisfying our thirst for life, the joy of freedom that we have never known before. And then, after everyone has experienced happiness, we will get to work; the work of demolishing the last vestiges of middle-class rule, with its calculated morality, its philosophy of debt and credit, its institutions of mines and glitter
To the problem that arises when one thinks of free distribution, Kropotkin does not see therein an opening for the establishment of a revolutionary government; on the contrary, he says that voluntary cooperation is the substitute for both private property and inequality, categories on which the state is founded. In this sense, Kropotkin advocates a system of public administration founded on the idea of the commune, not only as the administrative unit closest to the people and their immediate concerns, but also as a voluntary association that brings together the social interests represented by groups of individuals directly linked to them. The union of these communes would produce a network of cooperation that would replace the state.
In his role as a naturalist, Piotr Kropotkin propagated the importance of cooperation as a key factor in evolution parallel to competition. In his most famous work, Mutualism: A Factor of Evolution, Kropotkin outlined the general principles of mutuality among humans, based on his research during his scientific expeditions to Siberia. This work was initially written in English and French and quickly became popular in other languages such as Spanish, and copies of his writings can now be found in multiple languages.
In Mutualism, Kropotkin opposes the ideas of Thomas Henry Huxley and Herbert Spencer (considered by many the father of Social Darwinism), who, based on natural selection, defended the necessity of competition between individuals and social groups for the evolution process of a society. Another argument of Social Darwinism that Kropotkin confronted was the idea that competition between different societies would allow the best ones to excel and the worst ones to wither and disappear.
For his anarchist ideology, Kropotkin was imprisoned several times. Through these experiences (described in his book “In Russian and French prisons” and in his “Memoirs of a Revolutionist”) and real data on recidivism in more serious crimes, he analyzed the penal laws and the prison system. For him, the laws did not decrease crime, they only succeeded in preventing people from thinking critically, and in maintaining power and privilege in the capitalist class and the state. While prison, no matter how much it was reformed, only succeeded in eliminating the human qualities of the individual and made the individual less socialized, more marginalized and adapted to criminal life. Therefore, the institutionalized and State penal system should be abolished by the anarchist revolution that would form an egalitarian society. Without the defense of private property for some and the denial of access to it for others, people”s selfishness would not be awakened, the human tendency of mutual support would flourish, problems would be solved with cooperation, but he believes that with such aspects crimes would be minimized, but he recognizes that it could still occur, so as quoted in his book “The conquest of bread” he proposes a voluntary organization, forming a tribunal, in which sentences would be voted directly. Analogous examples are found within primitive human tribes, ancient rural communities, and modern industrial associations.
Monuments and paintings
There is a Russian city located in Krasnodar Krai that honors him by bearing his surname: Kropotkin.
In Dmitrov, there is a monument erected in front of his family”s old mansion, which until 1942 served as a museum in his memory. The original building having fallen down in the 1960s, it was recently rebuilt with the purpose of again serving as a museum in his memory.
Kropotkin was depicted in lyrical expressionist style in enamel by the American artist Bernard Re Jr. And Patrick St. John stylized the Russian theorist”s image over the term “mutual aid. In the same style, St. John also depicted the Mexican Emiliano Zapata and the orator Emma Goldman.
At the Freedom Press publishing headquarters in the London Borough of Whitechapel a drawing by Kropotkin features among the drawings of other notable anarchists.
Cinema and Music
A picture of Kropotkin along with images of Bakunin and Proudhon is shown behind the table at the meeting of the Sociedad Obrera in the 1974 film La Patagonia Rebelde. Also in this same film one of its characters quotes Kropotkin nominally in this same meeting scene “Well said Kropotkin that the revolution…”.
The punk rock and delta blues band The Kropotkins is named after the great 19th century Russian anarchist theorist. Along with other great anarchists, Kropotkin appears in the collage of old footage that forms the music video for the song Catbird Seat by US post-rock band The Silent League. The Belgian industrial percussion band Militia pays homage to the anarchist prince with the song comrade Pyotr Kropotkin, as does the also Belgian group les Baudouins Morts
Various publications of the time edited numerous articles and letters by Kropotkin. Notable among these were:
The Times, Nature, Daily Chronicle, The Nteenth Century, Forthnightly Review, The Atlantic Monthly, La Revue Scientifique, The Geographical Journal, Freedom, Le Révolté, Temps Nouveaux, L”Avant Garde, Commonweal, Jleb i volia, L”Intransigeant, Litski Jleb i volia, Voice of Labour, Newcastle Daily News, Arbeiterfreund, Tierra y Libertad, Bataille Syndicaliste, The Speaker, Le Soir e Ecole Renouvé (Bruxelas), La Protesta, Probuzhdenie (Detroit), Golos Truda, Dielo Truda e Independent (Nova Iorque), Politiken (Copenhague), The Alarm, El Productor (Barcelona), Avant Courier, La Revista Blanca (Madri).