George Woodcock, Anarchism: A History of Libertarian Ideas and Movements, 1962, Postscript 1975.
7 The Explorer
In the spring of 1872, when Bakunin was in Locarno nursing the humiliation of his failure at Lyons, another disaffected Russian aristocrat was travelling in Switzerland. He was a young but distinguished geographer of vaguely liberal inclinations; he was also a hereditary prince, and his name was Peter Kropotkin. Kropotkin spent much of his visit among the Russian refugees of Zurich and Geneva, listening to the arguments of the various revolutionary sects. Then he went for a short period into the Jura, where he met James Guillaume and joined the still undivided International as a supporter of the Bakuninist faction. Yet, though he was within easy distance of Locarno, Kropotkin did not meet Bakunin. The reasons for this omission are obscure, but the disinclination appears to have been on Bakunin's side; he may well have feared from this unknown Russian another experience like that which he had recently undergone with Nechayev. In the summer of the same year Kropotkin went back to Russia. He returned to Switzerland in 1877, a seasoned revolutionary propagandist who had served his time in the Peter-and-Paul fortress and had been the hero of a sensational escape. By this time Bakunin was dead, and Kropotkin quickly took his place as the leading exponent of anarchism.
There is an appropriateness in the fact that Bakunin and Kropotkin never met, for, despite their obvious similarities of background and belief, they were very different in character and in achievement. Kropotkin was a lifelong believer in the inevitability and desirability of revolution, yet he was never a practising revolutionary in the same sense as Bakunin. He did not fight at a single barricade, he preferred the open forum of discussion to the romantic darkness of conspiracy, and, though he might admit the necessity of violence, he was temperamentally opposed to its use. The destructive vision of blood and fire that so luridly illuminated Bakunin's thoughts did not attract him; it was the positive, constructive aspect of
anarchism, the crystal vision of an earthly paradise regained, that appealed to him, and to its elaboration he brought a scientific training and an invincible optimism.
In contrast to Bakunin's bohemian energy, Kropotkin showed an extraordinary mildness of nature and outlook. No one has ever thought of describing Bakunin as a saint, but those who knew Kropotkin often spoke of him in the terms of sanctification which in our own age have been reserved for men like Gandhi and Schweitzer. 'Personally Kropotkin was amiable to the point of saintliness,' Bernard Shaw once wrote to me, 'and with his red full beard and lovable expression might have been a shepherd from the Delectable Mountains.' Writers as varied as Oscar Wilde, Ford Madox Ford, and Herbert Read have given similar descriptions of Kropotkin.
To this secular saintliness he added a power of original thought that made him respected throughout the Western world as a scientist and a social philosopher, and while, like Bakunin, he lived out the best decades of his life in exile, it was an honoured rather than a hunted banishment. In the eyes of the English, who were his willing hosts for more than thirty years, he represented all that was good in the Russian fight for liberation from Tsarist autocracy, and in so far as anarchism came to be considered a serious and idealistic theory of social change rather than a creed of class violence and indiscriminate destruction, Kropotkin was principally responsible for the change.
Yet, though Bakunin and Kropotkin were so different in character and represented such different aspects of anarchism, the differences between them were not fundamental. The destruction of the unjust world of inequality and government was implicit in both their attitudes, as was the vision of a new, peaceful, fraternal world rising phoenix-like from the ashes of the old. The differences were of emphasis, dictated by historical circumstances as much as by personality. Bakunin was a man of the early nineteenth century, a conspiratorial romantic influenced by Carbonarist traditions and by German idealist philosophy; however emphatically he might declare himself a materialist and try to adapt his ideas to the scientific progressivism of the Darwinian age, it was still a semi-mystical vision
of salvation through destruction derived from the Hegelian 1840s that dominated his development from a revolutionary nationalist into an anarchist internationalist. Kropotkin, on the other hand, was born into the mid nineteenth century and absorbed its many-sided evolutionism into the very fabric of his thought, so that to him the conception of revolution as natural process was inevitably more sympathetic than the Bakuninist conception of revolution as apocalypse.
The visions of the two men, which we must thus regard as complementary rather than contradictory, reflect the change in historical circumstances from Bakunin's last phase, when the anarchist movement was just emerging out of the twilight of secret societies and minute insurrections, to Kropotkin's day, when it spread to almost every country in the Old and New Worlds and became for a time the most influential working-class movement in the Latin world. Kropotkin played a notable part in that expansion, but it was a different part from Bakunin's. Unlike Bakunin, he had no passion for creating organizations, and other anarchists of his time, such as Errico Malatesta and Fernand Pelloutier, were far more active in marshalling mass followings and creating an anarchist elite of dedicated militants and propagandists. Kropotkin was most important, even to the libertarian cause, as a personality and a writer; all that was noble, all that was 'sweetness and light' in anarchism seemed to be projected in the manifest goodness of his nature, while in writing he defined the ideal and related it to the scientific knowledge of his age with a simple clarity that even Godwin did not equal. Such nobility and such simplicity had, if not their faults, at least their limitations when Kropotkin came to look at the real world through his spectacles of universal benevolence; Bakunin's insights, even if they were not based on good scientific reasoning, were often more shrewdly realistic than Kropotkin's optimistic rationalizations.
Kropotkin was born during the 1840s, when the men of the preceding generation -- Herzen and Turgenev and Bakunin -- were already experiencing the intoxication of the Western ideas that finally detached them from their native land. In the Moscow mansion and in the great Kaluga country house where he spent his childhood there stirred only the slightest ripples of
that great disturbance of minds. His family was rich and powerful and ancient; his ancestors had been princes of Smolensk and claimed to be descended from the ancient royal house of Rurik which ruled Muscovy before the Romanovs. His father was a retired general, a military martinet after the heart of the reigning Tsar Nicholas I.
Perhaps, in view of Alexander Kropotkin's character, it was fortunate that he neglected his children and left them for the most part to the attention of the house serfs and, later, of a succession of tutors. It was from his childhood contact with the serfs, fellow sufferers from the capricious tyranny of his parents, that Kropotkin, like Turgenev before him, first perceived a common humanity between the rich and the humble, and learned, as he himself remarked, 'what treasuries of goodness can be found in the hearts of the Russian peasants'. A French tutor who had served in the Grand Army of Napoleon introduced him to the Gallic conception of equality, and a Russian tutor -- one of those wandering students who appear so often in nineteenth-century Russian novels -- provided him with the books that nurtured his opening mind, the stories of Gogol, the poems of Pushkin and Nekrasov, the radical journalism of Chernyshevsky. It was under the influence of his tutor, N. P. Smirnov, that Kropotkin first turned to writing, editing at the age of twelve a handwritten literary review to which he and his brother Alexander were the only contributors.
Meanwhile, as the son of a high-ranking officer, Kropotkin was expected to make his career in the service of the Emperor. By chance, when he was a child, he attracted the attention of Nicholas I at a reception given by the Moscow nobility to the visiting Tsar. Nicholas ordered that the boy should be enrolled in the Corps of Pages, the most exclusive military school in Tsarist Russia, from among whose students the personal attendants of the Imperial family were chosen. Kropotkin became the school's most brilliant student, and eventually Sergeant of the Corps, which meant that for a year he was the personal page of the new Tsar Alexander II. With such a portion his future seemed assured; he could expect to become a young general, and by middle age the governor of a province.
But, when he left the Corps in 1862, Kropotkin's ideas had
been through a series of changes that made it impossible for him to accept the career his teachers and his parents expected of him. His attitude toward both the court and the Tsar had always been ambivalent. He was superficially fascinated by the elegance and refinement of the setting in which he moved as a page. 'To be an actor in court ceremonies,' he commented long afterward,'in attendance upon the chief personages, offered something more than the mere interest of curiosity for a boy of my age.' On the other hand, there was an innate puritanism in Kropotkin's character which made him shrink from the profligacy of court life, while he was disgusted by the intrigues for power and position which he witnessed from his position close to the Emperor. Toward the Tsar his attitude was equally divided. For having freed the serfs in 1861 he regarded Alexander as a hero, and he admired him also for his devotion to the duties of his office; at the same time he was disappointed with the retrogressive tendency which became evident in his policy shortly after the emancipation of the peasants and which was to end in the brutal suppression of the Polish rising in 1863.
Besides, there were two strong positive influences that drew Kropotkin away from any thought of an official career. His liberal instincts had matured, partly through his introduction to Herzen's first magazine, The Polar Star, and partly in resistance to the petty tyrannies of the officers in the Corps of Pages. At the same time his interest in the sciences was developing into a true passion.
It was the privilege of members of the Corps of Pages to pick their own regiments; commissions would be found for them regardless of vacancies. Most of the boys chose the Guards, but Kropotkin decided that he wanted three things more than honours and prestige: to escape from the mephitic atmosphere of St Petersburg, to follow his scientific studies, and to play his part in the great reforms which he still hoped would follow the emancipation of the serfs. He came to the conclusion that the one place which would give him all these things was Siberia. The Eastern regions annexed by Bakunin's cousin, Muraviev-Amurski, were still largely unexplored, and offered opportunities in plenty for an apprentice scientist
Besides, I reasoned, there is in Siberia an immense field for the application of the great reforms which have been made or are coming; the workers must be few there, and I shall find a field of action to my tastes.
He accordingly applied for a commission in the new and despised regiment of Mounted Cossacks of the Amur. The authorities were surprised, and his family was indignant, but the luck of attracting the Grand Duke Michael's attention by his resourcefulness in helping to put out a fire that threatened the Corps of Pages recruited this powerful man on his side and enabled him to overcome the opposition to his choice. 'Go -- one can be useful anywhere,' said Alexander II to him; it was the last Kropotkin ever saw of this tragic monarch, already starting on the fatal path towards reaction that would lead to his death at the hands of the People's Will in 1881.
In Siberia Kropotkin found the atmosphere far more hopeful than in St Petersburg. Reform was still taken seriously there, and the Governor-General, Korsakov, who had turned a blind eye to Bakunin's preparations for escape, welcomed Kropotkin with the remark that he very much liked to have men of liberal opinions about him. He appointed him aide-de-camp to the Governor of Transbaikalia, General Kukel, and Kukel in turn gave him the task of investigating the penal system in Siberia. Kropotkin attacked this task with energy and enthusiasm; he watched the chained processions of convicts tramping over the steppes and inspected the rotting lockups in which they slept on their great marches from European Russia; he visited the hard-labour prisons, which 'all answered literally to the well-known description of Dostoyevsky in his Buried Alive', and the gold mines, where the convicts worked in icy water up to their waists, and, most terrible of all, the salt mines where the Polish rebels died of tuberculosis and scurvy.
More than anything he had experienced before, these inspections aroused in Kropotkin a horror at the effects of autocratic government, but he still hoped that the tide of reform had really set in, and went ahead with his work on the prison report and with other projects of a similar kind. But he became disillusioned when he realized before very long how indifference in St Petersburg and corruption in Siberia conspired to frustrate
his efforts. Yet, at the same time, he was impressed by what he saw of the success of cooperative colonization by the Doukhobors and other groups of peasant exiles in Siberia.
I began [he says] to appreciate the difference between acting on the principle of command and discipline and acting on the principle of common understanding. ... Although I did not then formulate my observations in terms of party struggles, I may say now that I lost in Siberia whatever faith in state discipline I had cherished before. I was prepared to become an anarchist
But several years were to pass before Kropotkin's latent anarchism became evident. As he grew increasingly despondent about the possibility of achieving reforms, he turned first to science and welcomed the chance to make a series of exploratory journeys through eastern Siberia and the frontier regions of Manchuria. Here, in the company of Cossack soldiers and native hunters, he found a simple, uncorrupted life whose charm undoubtedly influenced the cult of the primitive which runs through the writings of his later life. He went usually unarmed, trusting to the natural peacefulness of simple people, and he was never in danger from human hostility; he went also without elaborate equipment, learning quickly how little is needed for life 'outside the enchanted circle of conventional civilization'.
It is on the fifty thousand miles of travel in the Far East which Kropotkin carried out during his service in Siberia that his reputation as a geographer is mostly based. Professor Avakumovic and I have already described the journeys themselves.1 Here it is enough to say that, besides exploring large areas of the Siberian highlands hitherto untraversed by civilized travellers, Kropotkin also elaborated - on the basis of his observations - a theory of the structure of the Eastern Asian mountain chains and plateaus which revolutionized geographers' conceptions of Eurasian orography. He also made considerable contributions to our knowledge of the glacial age and of the great desiccation of Eastern Asia which led to the westward wanderings of the people of the steppes and, by a
chain reaction, to the barbarian invasions of Europe and of the ancient kingdoms of the East. Among geographers Kropotkin is still remembered as a scientist who contributed much to our knowledge of the earth's structure and its history.
But, like everything else that happened to him at this time, Kropotkin's explorations, by providing him with long periods of solitary thought, brought him nearer to the point where he would sacrifice even his scientific work to what seemed a higher cause. Many influences had been strengthening his tendency to social rebellion since he reached Siberia. He had mingled with the best of the political exiles, and had been influenced particularly by the poet M. L. Mikhailov, who was sent to Siberia in 1861 for his populist writings and died there of consumption in 1865. It was Mikhailov who introduced Kropotkin to anarchist ideas by encouraging him to read Proudhon; as a result of studying the poet's annotated copy of Economic Contradictions, which he bought after Mikhailov's death, Kropotkin began to regard himself as a socialist. He had taken the first step on the road to the mountains of the Jura.
In 1866 an incident occurred that crystallized all Kropotkin's half-formulated indignation against the autocracy he still served. A rebellion broke out among the Polish exiles who were building a road around Lake Baikal; they disarmed their guards, and set off southward with the quixotic plan of crossing the mountains into Mongolia and eventually reaching the Chinese coast, where they hoped to find transport to western Europe. They were intercepted by the Cossacks, and five of them were eventually executed. In disgust Kropotkin and his brother Alexander resigned from the Tsarist army. They returned to St Petersburg, where Peter enrolled as a student at the University and, since his father refused to send him any money, earned enough from casual secretarial work for the Russian Geographical Society to live in the Spartan way he had learned to appreciate during his explorations. A friend who knew him at this period describes him as established in 'a simple workers' lodging, a room where four people could hardly find space ... furnished with a table of white wood, a wicker armchair, and a great drawing bench on which be
executed the charts of the rivers and mountains of our Siberian steppes'.
For several years Kropotkin's academic studies and geographical tasks took up most of his attention, but a guilty sense of the conditions of the poor gnawed at his conscience, until in 1871, when he was investigating the glacial deposits in Finland, he received a telegram inviting him to take up the secretaryship of the Russian Geographical Society. It was the kind of opportunity which only a few months before he would have accepted gladly. Now he felt that the offer forced him to make a choice over which he had too long wavered. Science, for all its remoter benefits to mankind, appeared almost a luxury at a time when he was so conscious of the urgent need to help his fellows.
What right had I to these higher joys when all round me was nothing but misery and struggle for a mouldy piece of bread; when whatsoever I should spend to enable me to live in that world of higher emotions must needs be taken from the very moutiis of those who grew the wheat and had not bread enough for their children?
It is the cry one hears from many a guilty nobleman of Kropotkin's generation, and it led him to decide that, for the time being at least, his duty lay elsewhere than in scientific research. His break with science was in fact not so complete as it seemed at this time, but from now onward social idealism was to remain the dominant factor in his life, and science was to become the servant rather than the equal of his revolutionary aims.
At first he did not know how his decision would lead him to act. He was moved initially by a rather vague urge to 'go to the people', as so many young Russians were doing during the 1870s, and to try to educate them as the first step to a better life. Already, as a youth in the Corps of Pages, he had taken part in a plan to provide schools staffed by volunteer teachers for the newly liberated serfs, but his efforts and those of his friends had been brought to an end by the suspicion with which the Tsarist authorities regarded any effort to enlighten the people. Now he realized that anything so public as the foundation of a school would merely invite suppression, but he went nevertheless to the family estate in Tambov, ready, in
the true populist spirit, to do anything 'no matter how small it might be, if only it would help to raise the intellectual level and the well-being of the peasants'. He found, less painfully than those other narodniks who were attacked and even handed over to the police by the villagers they had gone to help, that the time for a rapprochement between Russian peasants and intellectuals had not yet come. He decided therefore to visit western Europe, where, in an atmosphere of intellectual freedom, he might be able to order his ideas and see more clearly the course he should take.
It was natural that he should go first to Switzerland, which had become the Mecca of radical Russians in the same way as the spas and gambling towns of Germany had attracted their more conventional compatriots. Kropotkin settled first in Zurich, where several hundred Russians, both men and women, were studying at the University or devoting themselves to expatriate politics on the side of Bakunin or of his populist rival, Peter Lavrov. Alexander Kropotkin was a friend and supporter of Lavrov, but this did not affect Peter's intention to consider carefully the many socialist and revolutionary trends he encountered during those exciting weeks of discussion among the Russians of Zurich. He met Bakunin's disciple Michael Sazhin, better known as Armand Ross, and he assembled all the books on socialism he could find and all the pamphlets and fugitive newspapers that were being published by the sections of the International throughout Europe. In the process he became convinced that among the workers of western Europe there existed the very consciousness of their own identity and their own power which he hoped to awaken among the peasants of his own country.
The more I read the more I saw that there was before me a new world, unknown to me, and totally unknown to the learned makers of sociological theories -- a world that I could know only by living in the Workingmen's Association and by meeting the workers in their everyday life.
He left Zurich for Geneva, a more active centre of the International, and there he became aware of the divisions that had arisen within the Association. For five weeks he mingled with
the Geneva Marxist group. But the political calculations that moved Nicholas Utin, the leading Russian Marxist in Geneva, soon irked him, and he then sought out Zhukovsky, at this time the leading Bakuninist in the city. It was Zhukovsky who sent him on the trip into the Jura that became Kropotkin's road to Damascus.
The first man he met in the Jura was James Guillaume, working in his little printing shop in Neuchatel; from there he went on to Sonvillier, where he sought out Schwitzguebel, and made the acquaintance of the mountain watchmakers, talking with them in their little family workshops and attending the meetings in the villages when the peasant craftsmen came tramping down from the hills to discuss the anarchist doctrine that seemed to offer them a chance of establishing social justice while retaining their treasured independence.
It is hard to imagine a situation more likely to appeal to Kropotkin. The enthusiasm that pervaded the Jura villages during the early 1870s confirmed all the hopes he had conceived when he read the pamphlets of the International in Zurich. The anarchist theories he heard expounded by Guillaume and Schwitzguebel and discussed fervently by the watchmakers 'appealed strongly to my mind', he tells us,
but the egalitarian relations which I found in the Jura mountains; the independence of thought and expression which I saw developing in the workers and their unlimited devotion to the cause appealed even more strongly to my feelings; and when I came away from the mountains, after a week's stay with the watchmakers, my views upon socialism were settled; I was an anarchist.
In its rapidity and its emotional nature, Kropotkin's experience had all the elements of a conversion; it set the pattern of his thought for the rest of his life.
It was only with difficulty that Guillaume dissuaded Kropotkin from staying in Switzerland and himself adopting the craftsman's life. His duty, Guillaume austerely reminded him, lay in Russia, and Kropotkin agreed. Soon after his return to St Petersburg he took up active propaganda as a member of the.Chaikovsky Circle, the most celebrated of the narodnik groups of the 1870s.
The Chaikovsky Circle has little place in the history of anarchism except as the setting in which Kropotkin began to develop his ideas of action and organization. Its members at this time had no thought of terrorist activity or of conspiring to overthrow the Tsar by force; they set out to be propagandists, to write and publish pamphlets, to import illegal literature from western Europe, and to carry on the great task of educating the people. Most of them were moderate constitutionalists with a leaning toward social democracy; Kropotkin was the only anarchist among them, and his ideas had little influence on the Circle as a whole. Indeed, when a quarrel broke out between the followers of Bakunin and those of Lavrov over the control of the Russian library in Zurich, the Chaikovtsy took the side of the Lavrovists.
Nevertheless, it was at this time that Kropotkin wrote his first anarchist essay. This was a pamphlet entitled Should We Occupy Ourselves with Examining the Ideals of a Future Society? One secret report of the Tsarist police asserts that the pamphlet was actually published, but no printed copy exists, and only a manuscript was produced when it was quoted as evidence in the famous Trial of the Hundred and Ninety-three, which marked the end of the peaceful phase of Russian populism in 1878.
What this pamphlet shows is that, despite his active association with a group who did not share his attitude, Kropotkin was already working out the anarchism he was later to propagate. In some ways his attitude at this time was nearer to both Proudhon and Bakunin than it became in his mature years. The influence of Proudhon appears in a suggestion that labour cheques should be substituted for money, and in the recommendation that consumers' and producers' cooperatives should be founded even under the Tsarist system, at least as a form of propaganda. His advocacy of the possession of the land and factories by workers' associations seems, however, much nearer to Bakuninist collectivism than to mutualism, and there is as yet no trace of the communistic form of distribution which afterward became so particularly associated with the name ol Kropotkin.
At the same time he explicitly opposes Nechayevism and the idea of revolution by conspiratorial means. Revolutionaries cannot make revolutions, he claims; they can only link and guide the efforts that originate among the dissatisfied people themselves. He rejects the state, contends that manual work should be regarded as a universal duty, and launches an argument characteristic of his later years when he advocates a form of education in which intellectual training will be combined with apprenticeship to a craft.
For two years Kropotkin took part in the activities of the Chaikovsky Circle, using his geographical work as a cover for the agitation which he carried on, disguised as the peasant Borodin, in the working-class quarters of St Petersburg. In 1874 he was arrested and imprisoned in the Peter-and-Paul fortress. After two years his health broke down, and he was transferred to the prison block of the St Petersburg military hospital. It was from here -- and not from the fortress as has so often been said -- that he made his celebrated escape, described with great vividness in his Memoirs of a Revolutionist. In August 1876 he reached England, and early the following year he travelled on to Switzerland and picked up the connexions made more than four years ago with the members of the Jura Federation.
This time he was quickly accepted into the inner circles of the anarchist movement, doubtless on the strength of his activities in Russia. He began to write for the Bulletin of the Jura. Federation and for other more fugitive anarchist sheets, and in August 1877 he attended what may well have been the last meeting of the secret Alliance, and was elected secretary of an international correspondence bureau which it was proposed to set up in Switzerland. Later in the same year he went as delegate for the Russian emigre groups to the last Congress of the Saint-Imier International at Venders in Belgium, and then continued to the International Socialist Congress in Ghent with the futile hope of reuniting the socialist movement. But he fled precipitately, under the impression that the Belgian police intended to arrest him, and returned to England, where for a time he contented himself with studying in the British Museum. It was now that he began to develop a conception of anarchism
as a moral philosophy rather than as a mere programme of social change.
I gradually began to realize that anarchism represents more than mere mode of action and a mere conception of a free society; it is part of a philosophy, natural and social, which must be developed in a quite different way from the metaphysical or dialectical methods which have been employed in sciences dealing with men. I saw it must be treated by the same methods as natural sciences. . . on the solid basis of induction applied to human institutions.
But such speculations had to wait, for Kropotkin felt the urge toward agitational activity much too strongly to settle down to the kind of libertarian scholarship that dominated his later years, and before 1877 was out he had left the Reading Room of the British Museum to collaborate with Andrea Costa and Jules Guesde in founding the small groups that were form the nucleus of an anarchist movement in Paris. In April Costa was arrested, and Kropotkin fled to Switzerland where, except for short trips abroad, he remained until 1880.
Now began his most active period as an agitator and a publicist. He was disappointed to find on his return that the enthusiasm of the Jura watchmakers which had inspired him so much in 1872 was almost spent; Guillaume had withdrawn into an inactivity that was to last for twenty years, the Jura Federation was withering away, and its Bulletin, long the semiofficial organ of pure Bakuninism, had ceased to appear. In Geneva, on the other hand, anarchist activity had revived, largely through the presence of a number of energetic Russian and French exiles, and with one of the latter, the young doctor Paul Brousse, Kropotkin collaborated in editing L'Avant-garde, which was printed principally to be smuggled over the border in the hope of fostering the growth of anarchism in France.
At the end of 1878 L'Avant-garde was suppressed by Swiss authorities and Brousse was imprisoned; to fill the gap left by the paper's disappearance, Kropotkin now founded Le Revolte, destined to become the most influential anarchist paper since the disappearance of Proudhon's Le Peuple in 1850. At first he did almost all the writing himself, besides spending
great deal of his time on lecture tours in an effort to reactivate the International in the small towns around Lake Leman and in the Jura. He was becoming conscious -- possibly under the influence of the Italian anarchists, who were already propounding the theory of 'propaganda by deed' -- that the time had come for the anarchist movement to pass beyond theoretical discussion.
What practical things can one do? [he wrote to his friend Paul Robin]. Unfortunately the International has been until now and is at present particularly only a study association. It has no practical geld of activity. Where can this be found?
The search for practical fields of activity dominated his work for Le Revolte, which he endeavoured to make 'moderate in tone but revolutionary in substance', and in which he set out to discuss in a simple way the historical and economic questions which he felt should interest the more intelligent workers. He wrote in a vivid journalistic manner, clear yet without the least trace of condescension, and the vigour of Le Revolte, in comparison with the dull sheets so far published by the anarchists, quickly made it popular among the radically minded workers not only in Switzerland but also in Southern France, where it helped to stimulate the revival of anarchism, which had languished since the failure of Bakunin's Lyons revolt in 1870.
Kropotkin continued to edit Le Revolte until, after attending the London International Anarchist Congress of July 1881, he was expelled from Switzerland because of pressure exerted by the Russian ambassador, and settled in the little French town of Thonon on the southern shore of Lake Leman. Even then he continued to write regularly for the paper.
Kropotkin's early articles in Le Revolte were concerned mostly with current issues, treated with an optimism that saw in every strike or bread riot a hopeful omen of the disintegration of the great national states which he saw as the particular enernies of peace and social justice. For many years, indeed, expected a Europe-wide revolution in the immediate future; in this he was not exceptional, for his expectations were shared
not only by most of his fellow anarchists, but also by many of his Marxist opponents.
Soon he began to write less topical articles, criticizing temporary society and its institutions from the point of view a libertarian sociologist, and attempting to pose concrete anarchist alternatives. Two of his earlier books, Paroles d'un revolte and The Conquest of Bread, were actually composed of article contributed to Le Revolte and its Parisian successor, Revolte, as were many of his pamphlets which in later years circulated across the world. Some of these, such as An Appeal to the Young, Revolutionary Government, and The Spirit m Revolt, have retained much of their appeal and are still printed and distributed by anarchist groups in Europe and America.
It is from these articles that one can date Kropotkin's influence as the last of the great anarchist theoreticians; even his later books, such as Mutual Aid, Fields, Factories and Workshops, and the posthumously published Ethics, were largely designed to provide scientific and philosophic support for the general conceptions that emerged from his period of militant journalism and agitation during the 1880s. For this reason it is appropriate to pause in the biographical narrative and consider the more important aspects of his developing ideas.
The desire to link theory with practice is evident in almost all Kropotkin's contributions to Le Revolte. He is considering the revolution, not in the apocalyptic form of a vast inferno of destruction which so often haunted Bakunin, but as a concrete event in which the rebellious workers must be aware of the consequences of their actions, so that revolt will not end in the establishment of new organs of power that will halt the natural development of a free society. His theme is the same as Proudhon's in 1848. Revolutions cannot be made with words alone; a knowledge of the necessary action and a will toward it must also exist.
If on the morrow of the revolution [he says in The Spirit of Revolt] the masses of the people have only phrases at their service, if they do not recognize, by clear and blinding facts, that the situation has been transformed to their advantage, if the overthrow ends only in a change of persons and formulae, nothing will have been achieved. ... In order that the revolution should be something more than a word, in order that the reaction should not lead us back tornorrow
the situation of yesterday, the conquest of today must be worth the trouble of defending; the poor of yesterday must not be the poor today.
In other words, the revolution must immediately ensure two things: first, the frustration of any attempt to create that self-defeating anomaly, a 'revolutionary government', and secondly,
substantial advance toward social equality. Gradualism is fatal, for all aspects of social and economic life are so closely interconnected that nothing less than a complete and immediate transformation of society will provide an effective guarantee against a retrogression of the kind that has followed every past revolution.
When these days shall come -- and it is for you to hasten their coming -- when a whole region, when great towns with their suburbs shall shake off their rulers, our work is clear; all equipment must return to the community, the social means held by individuals must be restored to their true owners, everybody, so that each may have his full share in consumption, that production may continue in everything that is necessary and useful, and that social life, far from being interrupted, may be resumed with the greatest energy.
When Kropotkin says that everything must return to the community, he does not mean this in a vague and general way; he means specifically that it must be taken over by the commune. This is a term familiar enough to the French, whom he was primarily addressing; it describes the local unit of administration that is nearest to the people and their concerns, but it also carries the revolutionary connotations of the Paris Communes of 1793 and 1871. But Kropotkin extends the idea; for him the commune is not an agency of local government, or even an expression of political federalism, as the two great Communes were. It is a voluntary association that unites all social interests, represented by the groups of individuals directly concerned with them; by union with other communes it produces a network of cooperation that replaces the state.
Economically the commune will find expression in the free liability of goods and services to all who need them, and here, in this emphasis on need rather than work as the criterion of distribution, we come to the point that differentiates Kropotkin
from Bakunin the collectivist and Proudhon the mutualist, both of whom envisaged systems of distribution directly related to the individual worker's labour time. Kropotkin, in other words, is an anarchist communist; for him the wage system, in any of its forms, even if it is administered by Banks of the People or by workers' associations through labour cheques, is merely another form of compulsion. In a voluntary society it has no longer any place.
The whole theory of anarchist communism is developed particularly in The Conquest of Bread, which was published in Paris as late as 1892, though the articles that composed it had been written during the preceding decade. However, it must be emphasized that anarchist communism was not new even when Kropotkin was writing about it in the pages of Le Revolte and La Revolte. He was its great apostle and popularizer, but it is doubtful if he was its actual inventor.
The feature that distinguishes anarchist communism from other libertarian doctrines is the idea of free distribution, which is older than anarchism itself. Sir Thomas More advocated it in the sixteenth and Winstanley in the seventeenth century; it was a feature of Campanella's City of the Sun, and even in the phalansteries imagined by Fourier the rare individuals who could not be charmed into finding work attractive would still have their right as human beings to receive the means of living from the community.
Indeed, it seems likely that Fourier's idea was one of the sources of anarchist communism. Proudhon had condemned the Phalansterians because of the regimentation that seemed to be involved in their socialist communities, but Elisee Reclus was an active Phalansterian before he associated with Bakunin in the early days of the International Brotherhood, and it seems likely that he brought certain of Fourier's ideas with him when he became one of the leaders of French anarchism in the 1870s.
The earliest publication that links anarchism and communism in any way is a small pamphlet by Francois Dumartheray, a Geneva artisan who later helped Kropotkin to produce Le Revolte. It is entitled Aux travailleurs manuels partisans de l'action politique, and was published in Geneva during 1876. At this time Kropotkin had only just left Russia, and he did
not reach Geneva until February 1877, so that Dumartheray can hardly have been influenced by him. Elisee Reclus, on the other hand, was in Geneva at the time, and may very well have inverted Dumartheray, who does not appear to have been a man of highly original mind.
In any event, whether the idea originated with Reclus or with Dumartheray himself, once afoot it spread rapidly. Cherkesov, the Georgian prince who was active among the anarchists in Switzerland during the 1870s, said that by 1877, within a year of Bakunin's death, everybody in Swiss libertarian circles had accepted the idea of anarchist communism without being willing to use the name. The Italians, in contact with trends in Switzerland through Cafiero, Malatesta, and other militants who occasionally found it wise to cross the border into Ticino, were also advancing by 1877 in the same direction. The final step of accepting the title anarchist communist was taken both in Switzerland and in Italy during 1880, when, as Kropotkin told Guillaume long afterward, he, Reclus, and Cafiero persuaded the Congress of the Jura Federation to accept free communism as its economic doctrine. The remaining active section of the anarchist movement at this time, in Spain, did not take the same decision, and remained until 1939 under the influence of Bakunin's collectivist ideas.
The Jura Congress of 1880 was in fact the first occasion on which Kropotkin publicly discussed anarchist communism. Under his revolutionary pseudonym of Levashov, he presented a report entitled The Anarchist Idea from the Point of View of Its Practical Realization, later published in Le Revolte, which from this point became tne organ of the anarchist-communist viewpoint. The report stressed the need for the revolution, when it came, to be based on the local communes, which would carry out all the necessary expropriations and collectivize the means of production. It did not specifically mention the communist method of distribution, but in the speech that accompanied it Kropotkin made quite clear that he regarded communism -- in the sense of free distribution and the abolition of any form of wage system -- as the result that should follow immediately from the collectivization of the means of production.
In The Conquest of Bread, whose component articles were
actually written in the mid 1880s, a few years after those collected in Paroles d'un revolte, Kropotkin brings a more reflective attitude to his presentation of anarchist communism. A corresponding shift in emphasis occurs. The discussion of revolutionary tactics is not absent, but it is no longer preponderant and Kropotkin's attention is diverted largely to a discussion of the scientific and historical reasons that may lead us to accept the possibility of a life of 'well-being for all'. It is not a Utopia in the sense of projecting the image of an ideal world presented to the last detail, for, like all the anarchists, Kropotkin accepted the view that society, especially after the social revolution, will never cease growing and changing, and that any exhaustive plans for its future are absurd and harmful attempts by those who live in an unhappy present to dictate how others may live in a happier future. What he really does is to take a series of the major social problems that afflict us now and consider tentatively how they may be worked out in a world where production is for use and not for profit and where science is devoted to considering means by which the needs of all may be reconciled and satisfied.
The Conquest of Bread really sets out from the assumption, deriving from Proudhon, that the heritage of humanity is a collective one in which it is impossible to measure the contribution of any individual; this being so, that heritage must be enjoyed collectively.
All things are for all men, since all men have need of them, since all men have worked in the measure of their strength to produce them, and since it is not possible to evaluate everyone's part in the production of the world's wealth. ... If the man and the woman bear their fair share of the work, they have a right to their fair share of all that is produced by all, and that share is enough to secure their well-being.
It follows that inequality and private property must both be abolished, but in the place of capitalist individualism there should appear not restrictive state ownership as contempt by the authoritarian socialists but a system of voluntary cooperation, which, as Kropotkin points out, has been found practical by governments themselves in such matters as international
postal and railway agreements. There is no logical
reason, he suggests, why such voluntary agreements should not
be extended to embrace all the functions of a complicated
The injustices and economic crises of capitalism proceed, Kropotkin argues, not from overproduction, but from underconsumption, and from the diversion of labour into unproductive tasks. If luxuries were no longer produced, if all the energy misdirected into bureaucratic and military activities were diverted to socially useful tasks, then there would be no problem in providing plenty for all. In fact, taking a line of thought already followed by Godwin, he suggests that if all men worked with their hands as well as their brains, 'five hours a day from the age of twenty or twenty-five to forty-five or fifty', it would assure the physical comfort of all. Having himself experienced the joy of creative activity as a scientist, he realizes that leisure is as necessary as bread for the burgeoning of the human spirit.
Man is not a being whose exclusive purpose in life is eating, drinking, and providing a shelter for himself. As soon as his material wants are satisfied, other needs, which, generally speaking, may be described as of an artistic nature, will thrust themselves forward. These needs are of the greatest variety; they vary in each and every individual, and the more society is civilized, the more will individuality be developed, and the more will desires be varied.
Accordingly, just as man's working life will be organized by cooperative working associations, so his leisure will be enriched by a vast proliferation of mutual-interest societies, like the present learned societies, but reaching out into a great population of fervent amateurs. All artists and scientists will in fact become amateurs in both senses of that ambivalent word, since all of them, Kropotkin is confident, will wish to carry on their manual work and through it broaden the experience they bring to artistic or intellectual pursuits.
From Fourier, Kropotkin takes up the argument for 'attractive work', which to him, as to his later friend William Morris, becomes one of the clues to the success of a free society. In a capitalist world there is no doubt that the majority of people find their work distasteful and would be glad to escape from it.
But this does not mean, Kropotkin argues, that man is naturally idle; on the contrary, he prefers to be occupied and finds satisfaction in work that is done freely and under pleasant circumstances. Division of labour and bad factory conditions lie at the base of the boredom and frustration that workers now endure; if these can be replaced by pleasant and healthy surroundings, and by varied work which gives the producer a sense of the usefulness of his task, then work will lose its disagreeable character, and its attractiveness will be reinforced by the moral satisfaction of knowing oneself a free man working for the general good. Kropotkin suggests that here is a sufficient answer to those who bring up the argument that in an anarchist-communist world, where each man can take freely from the store-house whatever he needs, there will no longer be any incentive for men to work. The best incentive is not the threat of want, but the consciousness of useful achievement.
Here he shows a characteristic anarchist reliance on man's natural leaning toward social responsibility. Society, unlike government, is a natural phenomenon, and so -- he suggests -- when all artificial restrictions have been removed, we may expect men to act socially, since that is in accordance with their natures. He fails to take into account the fact that when men have been conditioned into dependence the fear of responsibility becomes a psychological disease that does not in fact disappear as soon as its causes are removed.
Indeed, he himself reluctantly admits that some asocial individuals may resist the attractions work can provide in a free society. And here he claims that society has a right to exert moral pressure, so that into the Eden of freedom conjured up in The Conquest of Bread there enters the serpent of public opinion which Orwell detected as one of the inhabitants of the anarchist paradise. One listens unquietly to the exhortation which at this point Kropotkin addresses to the useless man.
If you are absolutely incapable of producing anything useful, or if you refuse to do it, then live like an isolated man or like an invalid. If we are rich enough to give you the necessities of life we shall be delighted to give them to you. . . . You are a man, and you have a right to live. But as you wish to live under special conditions, and leave the ranks, it is more than probable that you will suffer for it
in your daily relations with other citizens. You will be looked upon as a ghost of bourgeois society, unless friends of yours, discovering you to be a talent, kindly free you from all moral obligations by doing all the necessary work for you.
A free society where the outsiders, those who are not 'in the ranks', are subjected to the moral condemnation of their neighbours may seem self-contradictory. Yet Godwin propounded the same idea a hundred years before Kropotkin, and it is not out of keeping with the strain of puritanism which disturbingly recurs throughout the libertarian tradition; like all theoretical extremists, the anarchist suffers acutely from the temptations of self-righteousness.
The discussion of Kropotkin's anarchist-communist ideas has taken us ahead of the actual course of his life, and I return to the point at which he settled in the French Savoy after having been expelled from Switzerland. He stayed only a few weeks at Thonon, and then went on to England, addressing anarchist groups in the Lyons region on his way north. He seems to have contemplated settling in England, but he found few signs there of the socialist upsurge that began later in the decade, and after almost a year in London he found its apathetic atmosphere unendurable. In October 1882 he returned to Thonon, where at least he was near his old Geneva comrades.
He arrived inopportunely. During his months in England there had been a surge of unrest in central France, climaxed by a series of riots and dynamite explosions at Monceau-les-Mines in the Massif Central. These events were linked in the minds of the French authorities with the growth of anarchism in southern France. Kropotkin had lost touch with the French movement during his residence in England, but his connexion with Le Revolte, the principal libertarian periodical, and his international reputation as a revolutionary theoretician, as well as the fact that his return to France happened to coincide with a new outbreak of violence, were causes enough for the police to consider him too dangerous to remain at liberty. When a round-up of anarchists was carried out at the end of 1882, his arrest marked the culmination of the campaign. On 3 January 1883 he and fifty-three other anarchists appeared before the Lyons Police Correctional Court; fourteen men who had gone
into hiding were also included in the indictment. Since there was no evidence to suggest that any of the prisoners had been implicated in the recent acts of violence, the prosecution in. voked a law against the International that had been passed after the Commune, and charged that the accused were active in a forbidden organization.
The defendants did their best to turn the event into an oppor. tunity to expound their views. Kropotkin drafted the statement of principles to which they all subscribed. It denounced govern-ments and capitalism; demanded equality 'as a primordial condition of freedom' and 'the substitution, in human relationships, of a free contract, perpetually revisable, for administration and legal tutelage, for imposed discipline'; and ended in ironic defiance: 'scoundrels that we are, we demand bread for all; for all equally independence and justice'. He also made his own speech, telling how and why he became a revolutionary and calling on his judges not to perpetuate class hatred, but to join with all just men in establishing a society where the absence of want would remove the causes of strife.
His eloquence had no influence on the court; it was not even intended for that purpose. Even though the prosecutor was forced to admit that the International no longer existed, the prisoners were still found guilty of belonging to it. Kropotkin and three other leading anarchist propagandists were each condemned to five years' imprisonment. They were sent to the prison of Clairvaux in the old Abbey of St Bernard, where they were given the privileged treatment of political prisoners. Kropotkin's time was filled with the many occupations of a resourceful and versatile man. He conducted classes among his fellow prisoners in languages, cosmography, physics, and geometry; he experimented with intensive cultivation in the prison garden; he wrote articles on Russia for the Nineteenth Century and on geography for La Revue socialiste, as well as contributions to the Encyclopaedia Britannica and to Elisee Reclus's monumental Geographie universelle.
The variety of highly respectable publications that were ready to accept Kropotkin's work from a French prison illustrates not merely the extent of his recognition as a serious scholar, but also the widespread disapproval of his trial and imprisonment.
Georges Clemenceau brought a motion for amnesty before the Chamber of Deputies; it gathered more than a hundred votes. Moderate French papers like the Journal des iconomistes condemned the sentence, the French Academy of Sciences offered to send Kropotkin any books he needed, and Ernest Renan put his library at the prisoner's disposal. When Victor Hugo submitted to the President of France a petition from British men of learning and letters, it bore some of the most distinguished names of Victorian England: Swinburne and Morris, Watts-Dunton and Burne-Jones, Leslie Stephen and Frederic Harrison, Sidney Colvin and Patrick Geddes, John Morley and James Runciman and Alfred Russell Wallace, as well as fifteen professors of the major universities and the leading officials of the British Museum.
None of these manifestations of sympathy and protest had any immediate effect, and Kropotkin went through a period of grave illness from malaria -- endemic in the Clairvaux region --
and recurrent scurvy. After this, and after the French Premier, De Freycinet, had admitted Russian pressure by declaring that 'diplomatic reasons stood in the way of Kropotkin's release', popular indignation finally forced the President to pardon him and the other anarchist prisoners.
After serving three years of his sentence, Kropotkin was released on 15 January 1886; in March 1886 he landed in England for the fourth time. It was to become his home for more than thirty years, and his arrival there marked the end of his active life as an explorer and a revolutionary, which had lasted a quarter of a century from the time of his arrival in Siberia. It is true that he participated in the English anarchist movement, helping to found the periodical Freedom and the Freedom Group, which has remained the only durable anarchist organization in Britain; he also went on occasional lecture tours in England and even, on two occasions, in North America, and he took part in the foundation of a number of Russian exile periodicals. But these activities were sporadic, and he never again assumed the role of militant leader which he had occupied during his editorship of Le Revolte. Rather he tended to retire into the life of the scholarly theoretician, combining a consideration of the wider, sociological aspects of anarchism with
a return to his former scientific interest. For long periods he lived in the seclusion of distant suburbs, where he cultivated, gardens that were the envy of his neighbours and kept open house at week-ends to a succession of visitors, including not only fellow geographers and anarchist comrades, but also English radicals and intellectuals of many types, from Bernard Shaw to Tom Mann, from Frank Harris to Ford Madox Ford. To the anarchists he became the great prophetic savant of the movement, to be asked for advice and articles, to be welcomed when he made a rare appearance at a public meeting or at a reunion in one of the revolutionary clubs which then dotted Soho and Whitechapel. To the educated British public he was an honoured symbol of Russian resistance to autocracy. His articles in The Times and in scientific periodicals were read with respect, while his autobiography, Memoirs of a Revolutionist, and his discussion of cooperation as a factor in evolution, Mutual Aid, were quickly accepted as classics in their own fields.
At the same time Kropotkin's own attitude was slowly modified. More and more he stressed the evolutionary aspect of social change, relating it to peaceful developments in society rather than to abrupt revolutionary upheavals; less and less he advocated violent methods, and as early as 1891 he suggested in one of his speeches that anarchism might come 'by the ripening of public opinion and with the least possible amount of disturbance'. He suffered genuine anxiety over the actions of anarchist assassins during this period; he did not wish to condemn them, since he felt their impulses were honest and understandable, but he could not approve of their methods.
There were several reasons for these changes in Kropotkin's attitude. Failing health demanded a more tranquil existence, and this brought to the surface his natural benignity. He turned toward evolution because it was in his gentle nature to prefer it, but also because of the renewal of his scientific interests, which led him to react against the apocalyptic romanticism of Bakunin. He recognized that his earlier agitational activities had not brought the rapid results he had expected, and perceiving the constant setbacks experienced by the revolutionary movement, he became steadily less confident of victory in the
comparatively near future. But perhaps the most important single influence on his changing views was his contact with the English socialist movement. He was the close friend of William Morris,2 he knew and esteemed many of the Fabians and some of the founders of the Independent Labour Party, such as Keir Hardie, and though he and H. M. Hyndman, the Marxist leader of the Social Democratic Federation, were in constant disagreement, there remained a great deal of personal respect between them. Kropotkin was impressed by the mutual tolerance that existed between the various sections of the British labour movement. He recognized that British socialism had a greater libertarian element than its Continental Marxist counterparts, and he was influenced, perhaps only half consciously, by the hope of proceeding toward the ideal goal gradually and reasonably, which permeated the English labour tradition. To a great extent these aspects of English socialism derived from the submerged influence of William Godwin and his disciples; significantly, it was at this time that Kropotkin himself discovered Godwin and recognized him as an ancestor.
These changes in attitude did not mean that Kropotkin in any way abandoned his earlier ideals. To the end of his life he remained convinced of the evils of capitalism and government, of the need for a change that would transform the whole of society and create a free communism in place of a system dominated politically by the state and economically by the wage system. However friendly he may have been to the English socialists, he never compromised on the basic issues that divided him from them. But he did present a very different aspect of anarchism from that suggested by the violent acts of the propagandists of the deed who were beginning to operate in Latin Europe; and if in France and England anarchism appeared to many non-anarchists, such as the Fabian Edward Pease, 'a consistent and almost sublime doctrine', this was, as Pease further remarks, because of the 'outstanding ability and unimpeachable character' of Kropotkin and his associates. Kropotkin's benign presence as a platform speaker, the sweet reasonableness which in his writings replaced the fulminations
of Bakunin and the wilful paradoxolatry of Proudhon, and the talent for amiability that made him as easily at home in the country houses of aristocrats as in the terrace cottages of Durham miners, all contributed to this transformation of the image of anarchism. It began to appear not as a creed in which radical criticism was the most important element, as with Proudhon, or where the destruction of the old society was considered the one urgent task -- with the new world taking care of itself -- as with Bakunin, but rather as a doctrine which, without being Utopian in the restrictive manner of Cabet and the later Phalansterians, nevertheless presented a concrete and feasible alternative to existing society.
Kropotkin's major contributions to general anarchist theory end with the publication in 1902 of Mutual Aid, and in 1903 of a long pamphlet entitled The State. His later books, Ideals and Realities in Russian Literature, The Great French Revolution, and the posthumously published Ethics, are peripheral works, irradiated by a libertarian spirit, but not directly aimed at presenting the anarchist-communist case.
Mutual Aid was Kropotkin's contribution to a controversy that had its remoter origins in the work which marked the real beginning of theoretical anarchism, Godwin's Political Justice. Godwin's conception of universal benevolence was not dissimilar to Kropotkin's idea of mutual aid, and on it he based his contentions that if men behaved rationally, did their due share of socially useful work, eliminated wasteful activities, and exploited scientific discoveries for the general benefit, all could enjoy well-being and still have leisure for developing their spiritual selves. The resemblance of these arguments to those developed in The Conquest of Bread is evident.
In reply to Godwin, T. R. Malthus brought forward in 1798 his celebrated theory that there is a natural tendency for population to increase in a higher ratio than the available supply of food, and that the balance is only preserved by such phenomena as disease, famine, war, and the general struggle for life in which the weak are eliminated. Godwin's suggestions, if put into practice, would merely upset the natural limitation of population, and would thus be self-defeating, since population would again increase more rapidly than available supplies of
food, and famine would restore the natural balance; hence all talk of a fundamental improvement in human conditions is merely chimerical.
Hazlitt and Godwin both replied to Malthus, but his doctrine remained an enduring presence in Victorian thought, and it received new support in the biological field when Darwin emphasized competition and the 'struggle for existence' as dominant elements in the process by which natural selection preserves favourable variations and eliminates unfavourable ones. Though in his later years Darwin acknowledged that cooperation within species should not be ignored as a factor in evolution, the idea of conflict remained a much stronger element in his conception of the evolutionary process, and it was emphasized by the neo-Darwinians, such as Thomas Henry Huxley with his view of the animal world as a perpetual 'gladiator's show' and of the life of primitive man as a 'continuous free fight'. Strife, according to Huxley, was not merely desirable as a condition of progress; it was also inevitable.
Superficially this attitude may seem to have much in common with those aspects of anarchist thought which stress the idea of struggle as necessary for the attainment of a free society. But the anarchists maintain that struggle is necessary only in order to eliminate the negatively competitive aspects of existing society. If competition exists at all in the future they envisage, it will be transformed into socially useful emulation. But the continued existence of the kind of perpetual struggle posed by the neo-Darwinians would be fatal to a cooperative society. Thus it became necessary for libertarian thinkers to provide an effective reply to the arguments of Malthus and Huxley; Kropotkin undertook this in Mutual Aid.
His interest in the cooperative aspects of evolution dated from the years of his Siberian explorations. Observing the animal life of the wild regions he traversed, he had discovered less evidence of struggle than of cooperation between individuals of the same species. His conversion to anarchism sharpened his interest in animal sociability, and in April 1882 he contributed an article to Le Revolte in which he discussed Darwinism and foreshadowed his own theory of mutual aid by contending that 'solidarity and communal work -- these
strengthen the species in the fight for the maintenance of their existence against adverse powers of nature'. A little later, while in prison at Clairvaux, he was impressed by a lecture the scientist Kessler had given in Moscow, arguing the importance of cooperation as a factor in evolution. But it was Huxley's paper on The Struggle for Existence and Its Bearing upon Man published in 1888, that prompted Kropotkin to attempt a reply and in 1890 he began to publish in the Nineteenth Century the series of essays that eventually formed Mutual Aid.
He begins this book by suggesting that throughout the animal world, from the insects up to the highest mammals, 'species that live solitarily or in small families are relatively few, and their numbers are limited'. Often they belong to dwindling species or live as they do because of artificial conditions created by human destruction of the balance of nature. Mutual aid, in fact, appears to be the rule among the more successful species, as Kropotkin shows by an impressive series of observations made by himself and other scientists, and he suggests that it is in fact the most important element in their evolution.
Life in societies enables the feeblest animals, the feeblest birds, and the feeblest mammals to resist, or to protect themselves from the most terrible birds and beasts of prey; it permits longevity; it enables the species to rear its progeny with the least waste of energy and to maintain its numbers albeit a very slow birth-rate; it enables the gregarious animals to migrate in search of new abodes. Therefore, while fully admitting that force, swiftness, protective colours, cunningness, and endurance to hunger and cold, which are mentioned by Darwin and Wallace, are so many qualities making the individual or the species the fittest under certain circumstances, we maintain that under any circumstances sociability is the greatest advantage in the struggle for life. Those species which willingly abandon it are doomed to decay; while those animals which know best how to combine have me greatest chance of survival and of further evolution, although they may be inferior to others in each of the faculties enumerated by Darwin and Wallace, except the intellectual faculty.
The intellectual faculty, Kropotkin suggests, is 'eminently social', since it is nurtured by language, imitation, and accumulated experience. Moreover, the very fact of living in society
tends to develop -- in however rudimentary a form -- 'that collective sense of justice growing to become a habit' which is the very essence of social life.
The struggle for existence is indeed important, but as a truggle against adverse circumstances rather than between individuals of the same species. Where it does exist within a species, it is injurious rather than otherwise, since it dissipates the advantages gained by sociability. Far from thriving on competition, Kropotkin suggests, natural selection seeks out the means by which it can be avoided.
Such considerations apply equally to men. Kropotkin counters Huxley's Rousseauish vision of primeval man engaged in a continual free fight for existence with observations of actual primitive societies which suggest that man may always have lived in tribes or clans in which the law as we know it is replaced by customs and taboos ensuring cooperation and mutual aid. Man is and always has been, Kropotkin contends, a social species. He sees mutual aid reaching its apogee in the rich communal life of the medieval cities, and shows that even the appearance of coercive institutions such as the state has not eliminated voluntary cooperation, which remains the most important factor in the intercourse of men and women, considered as individuals. The urge to sociability is the foundation of every creed of social ethics, and if it did not condition almost all our daily acts toward our fellow men, the most highly organized state could not prevent the disintegration of society.
I have necessarily oversimplified a complex and well-argued book which, with the exception of Memoirs of a Revolutionist, remains Kropotkin's most effective work. Despite the colouring optimism, his evidence is well presented and the facts are well argued; very little that biology or sociology has since discovered about the behaviour of men and animals substantially disproves Kropotkin's conclusions.
Mutual Aid creates, of course, no departure in libertarian thought. It represents rather the classic statement of the idea common to most anarchists, that society is a natural phenomenon, existing anterior to the appearance of man, and that man is naturally adapted to observe its laws without the need for artificial regulations. The major flaw of Mutual Aid is that it
does not acknowledge the tyrannies of custom and habit as it does those of government and regulation. Once again, Kropotkin shows that he is willing to accept moral compulsion, whether it is the rule of custom in a primitive tribe or that of public opinion in an anarchist society, without admitting how far this force also negates the freedom of the individual. A taboo-ridden native of the primitive Congo had in reality far less freedom of action than a citizen of the England in which Kropotkin himself lived with such slight interference. A stateless society, in other words, may be very far from a free society so far as the personal lives of its members are concerned. This possibility Kropotkin was never willing to consider seriously.
The later years of Kropotkin's life declined into ill health, and in 1914 the First World War abruptly separated him from the majority of his fellow anarchists. Following the anti-militarist tradition, the anarchist movement as a whole opposed the war, though a number of its leaders, including Cherkesov and Grave, supported Kropotkin's stand in favour of the Allies.
Kropotkin's own attitude showed a return to the tradition of the narodniks among whom he had first become a revolutionary. The earlier Russian radicals saw Germany, and particularly Prussia, as an enemy of their own ideals. They felt that the worst elements of Tsarism were derived from Prussian autocracy, grafted on by the German empress, Catherine the Great, and by Nicholas I, who admired Junker military methods so much that he introduced them into his own administration. In his pan-Slavist days Bakunin abandoned his earlier worship of Germany as the homeland of philosophy, and his distrust grew into hatred during the Franco-Prussian War. Since that time, in Kropotkin's view, the German Empire had been consolidated and even German socialism had taken on a universally authoritarian character. He believed that Germany and the Germans desired war in order to dominate Europe, and that such a domination would set back the cause of freedom immeasurably. In these circumstances he fell into the habit of identifying -- against his own theories -- states with peoples, and where Bakunin had talked of a popular war against the Prussians, a war that would destroy all states, Kropotkin 
argued himself into the position in which he supported England and France, as States, against the German State.
The break with the anarchists was probably the most unhappy event of Kropotkin's life. It looked as though he was drawing near the lonely and melancholy end of an active career when the news arrived in March 1917 that the Russian people had revolted and the autocracy had come to an end. Kropotkin was delighted. His own people had freed themselves from tyranny, and his last days might after all be dedicated to the service of his native land. In the summer of 1917 he left England and arrived at the Finland Station in Petrograd, where he was welcomed by Kerensky, a regiment of Guards, and military bands playing the 'Marseillaise'. Absent were the Russian anarchists, most of whom opposed the war.
Forty years abroad had put Kropotkin out of touch with Russian realities. He did not realize how far the February Revolution had been motivated by the war-weariness of a people involved in a conflict they hardly understood, and he immediately began -- as if it were the most urgent task of all -- exhorting the Russians to pursue the war against Germany with a vigour the Germanophile Tsar had been unable to summon up. He refused any part in the government, yet because of his support for continuation of the war his name became associated with the discredited regime of Kerensky, while from the Left -- whether anarchist, social revolutionary, or Bolshevik -- he was cut off because the supporters of all these trends opposed the war and accepted Lenin's policy of revolutionary defeatism. Consequently, Kropotkin sank rapidly into insignificance in the changing political scene, and all the influence for moderation that he might have wielded in Russia was wasted.
The events of the October Revolution followed in some ways the pattern anticipated by the anarchist theoreticians, including Kropotkin himself. The peasants seized the land and the workers the factories, so that the decrees by which the Bolsheviks made these facts legal merely recognized accomplished situations. Most of the anarchists actually took part in the October nsing, seeking within it the possibilities of a genuine libertarian revolution. Yet Kropotkin was prophetically right when he
said to Atabekian, one of the few old comrades with whom he maintained contact at this time, 'this buries the Revolution'.
In the long run the Bolshevik seizure of power reunited Kropotkin with the Russian anarchists, since it effectively removed the main cause of their differences, the issue of the war. Moreover, the movement as a whole was soon forced to oppose the Bolshevik regime not only because of its dictatorial nature but also because the anarchists were among the first dissidents to endure the persecutions of the Cheka. Kropotkin was too internationally celebrated to be subjected to any direct persecution, but he protested as much as he could against the course of events. He met Lenin on more than one occasion to criticize his policies, and in November 1920 he wrote a letter to him courageously attacking the practice of taking hostages. But perhaps the most important document of this final period was the 'Letter to the Workers of the World' which he handed to Margaret Bondfield on her visit to Russia.
In this letter, which was published widely in the western European press, Kropotkin sharply dissociated himself from those who thought of destroying the Bolsheviks by external force, and called on all progressive elements in Western countries to bring an end to the blockade and the war of intervention, which would merely reinforce the dictatorship and make more difficult the task of those Russians who were working for a genuine social reconstruction. He next put forward his own anarchist vision of a Russia based on the federal union of free communes, cities, and regions. Then he exhorted the people of other lands to learn from the errors of the Russian Revolution. Some aspects of that revolution he praised, particularly its great steps toward economic equality and the original idea of Soviets as institutions that would lead to the direct participation of the producers in the administration of their own fields of work. But he remarked that, once they came under the control of a political dictatorship, the Soviets were reduced to the passive role of instruments of authority.
The immense constructive work that is required from a Social Revolution [he argued] cannot be accomplished by a central government, even if it had to guide it in its work something more substantial than a few socialist and anarchist booklets. It requires
the knowledge, the brains, and the willing collaboration of a mass of local and specialized forces, which alone can cope with the diversity of economic problems in their local aspects. To sweep away that collaboration and to trust to the genius of party dictators is to destroy all the independent nuclei, such as trade unions and the local distributive cooperative organizations, turning them into the bureaucratic organs of the party, as is being done now. But this is the way not to accomplish the Revolution; the way to render its realization impossible.
Yet Kropotkin retained enough optimism to foresee an eventual world-wide revival of socialism, and he called on the workers to set up a new International, divorced from political parties and based on freely organized trade unions aiming at the liberation of production from 'its present enslavement to capital'.
These were courageous words at the time of the Civil War and the deepening Bolshevik Terror, and Kropotkin's last years were among his noblest in their stoical dedication to his fundamental ideals. But his words had no influence on events, either in the outside world or in Russia itself. Even for the anarchists he could do nothing, since most of them were either in prison or exile, or fighting their own battle in Makhno's revolutionary army of the Ukraine. Conscious of his loneliness, of the failure of his present hopes for Russia, but still mentally active and working constantly on his last book, Ethics, Kropotkin declined slowly into feebleness and died on 8 February 1921. A procession five miles long followed his coffin through the streets of Moscow; it was the last great demonstration of the lovers of freedom against the Bolsheviks, and the black banners of the anarchist groups bore in scarlet letters the message, 'Where there is authority there is no freedom.' In such dramatic fashion did the last of the great anarchist theoreticians pass into history.
Kropotkin himself might have claimed -- though he would have done so in all humility -- that his contribution to the anarchist tradition was the application of the scientific approach to its practical problems. But his irrepressible optimism, his exaggerated respect for the nineteenth-century cult of evolution, his irrational faith in the men of the people, deprived him
of true scientific objectivity. His approach, as he sometimes recognized, was as much intuitive as intellectual, and his compassionate emotion always overcame his cold reasoning. I would suggest that his real contribution was rather the humanization of anarchism, the constant relating of theory to details of actual living, which gave the doctrine a concreteness and a relevance to everyday existence that it rarely shows in the writings of Godwin, Proudhon, or Bakunin. But his concreteness of approach was irradiated by the quality of personality Kropotkin believed fervently in human solidarity because everything in his nature attracted him to the idea. He was a man of unimpeachable honesty, kind and conscious of the needs of others, generous and hospitable, courageous and uncomfortably devoted to sincerity. His well-balanced goodness, indeed, seems almost too bland and blameless in our modern age, when the assumption is easily made that genius must spring from frustration and saintliness from some deep Dostoyevskian stain; yet that goodness was real, and to it we owe the particular benignity of Kropotkin's view of human nature and, less directly, that complexly organized yet simple-hearted vision of an earthly and agnostic City of God with which he crowned the rambling edifice of anarchist thought.
1 George Woodcock and Ivan Avakumovic, The Anarchist Prince, London, 1950.
2 It is significant that he never supported the group of violent anarchists who made life within the Socialist League so difficult for Morris.