George Woodcock and Ivan Avakumovic, The Anarchist Prince: A Biographical Study of Peter Kropotkin, 1950.



We have dealt with the principal events of Kropotkin's career in Western Europe, reserving his Russian interests for later chapters, and here we must turn aside to consider the literary productions which form his contribution to political and sociological thought. The object of the present chapter is mainly expository, since the significance of Kropotkin's teachings in that historical perspective which embraces his day and ours will be discussed at the end of the book.

The main works we shall consider are five in number. Paroles d'un Revolte and The Conquest of Bread are concerned directly with the anarchist theory of revolution and social organisation. Mutual Aid is a treatise on evolution which proceeds from biology into anthropology and thence to the sociological realm of human relationships. Fields, Factories and Workshops is a more strictly sociological work, embracing such important themes as economic decentralisation, the relationship between industry and agriculture, and the integration of work and education. The Great French Revolution, besides being a lively and comprehensive history of a significant period, is also an elaborate inquiry into the origin of revolutions and the reasons why they do not always preserve their original impetus or gain all the aims for which their more clear-sighted actors strive. In addition, we shall consider his pamphlets on The State and Anarchist Morality which represent the most important short writings during the period before 1917. Three major books do not enter into this pattern and are dealt with elsewhere. They are the Memoirs of a Revolutionist, already discussed, Ideals and Realities in Russian Literature, which fits most appropriately into the [306] narrative of Russian activities, and Ethics, which belongs to the final days after 1917.

In considering these books, one important fact must be borne in mind. With the exception of the major part of The Great French Revolution, all appeared originally as articles in anarchist papers or as essays in literary reviews like The Nineteenth Century, This fact inevitably affected their style, particularly in the case of Paroles d'un Revolte and The Conquest of Bread, which were written for working men, and have a simplicity and brevity of expression not usually encountered in political books. Even the more directly scientific writings are executed with a minimum of jargon and in very straightforward terms, for Kropotkin believed that ideas should always be made understandable to the common man, and that technical phraseology could be much diminished when discussing broad scientific issues.

This way of writing had both faults and virtues. It created freshness of expression and ease of understanding. Any of Kropotkin's books is incomparably clearer to the general reader than most Marxist treatises. But it also encouraged a tendency to simplify complex issues and to generalise where particular analysis might have been more appropriate. Kropotkin's scientific view had many gaps; he was, for instance, by no means sufficiently conscious of the young science of psychology, and tended to relegate it too easily to a subordinate branch of physiology. Yet such flaws were more often the faults of the age than of the man, and if Kropotkin's judgments were at times too sweeping or hasty, it must also be said that what Havelock Ellis has called his "many-sided nature" gave him a much more balanced attitude towards human problems seen as a whole than can usually be found among scientific specialists.

Paroles d'un Revolte is a collection of articles written in Le Revolte between 1880 and the end of 1882. It shows impressively the maturity and certainty of expression which Kropotkin had attained in the comparatively short period since his arrival in Switzerland in 1877. Three years of active agitation had been sufficient to develop his ideas and to enable him, when circumstances forced him to assume the editorship of Le Revolte, to emerge as the most accomplished spokesman of anarchist thought since Proudhon.

The quality of this book is uneven, largely because it was [307] collected soon after the articles had been written, with the consequence that there are a number of prophetic utterances relating to a revolution which Kropotkin expected in the near future and which never materialised, and these tend to obscure the excellent social judgment of the more analytical essays. But even such ephemerae show an accurate perception of genuine social disturbances, of symptoms which Kropotkin wrongly interpreted as presaging the final destruction of the State. In fact they foretold the decay of private capitalism and its replacement by a more acute economic and political centralisation. It was an error which many others, including Kropotkin's leading Marxist opponents, made in those optimistic days before the long disillusionment which has paralysed socialist intellectuals in our day.

But, setting aside the four essays written in this vein of inaccurate prophecy, there remains a group of sixteen articles which have a varying degree of interest as illustrations of Kropotkin's general theories of social development. Some, like An Appeal to the Young, are little more than eloquent exhortations to activity, and others deal too briefly with their subjects to have lasting value. But the rest illustrate admirably the writer's criticism of political activity, his own theory of revolution, and his conception of the general lines along which a free society might emerge from the vague aspirations of the discontented.

The criticism of political activity, particularly in those countries which boast that their constitution gives them peculiar freedom, is contained in a long analysis of representative government. Kropotkin begins from the assumption that:

"... The political regime to which human societies are submitted is always the expression of the economic regime which exists within that society. Political organisation does not change at the will of legislators; it can, it is true, change its name, it can today be presented in the form of a monarchy, tomorrow in that of a republic, but it does not suffer an equivalent change; it is fashioned and made to fit the economic regime, of which it is always the expression and, at the same time, the consecration and support."
Thence he demonstrates that universal suffrage cannot in itself effect anything, since the system will always act in accordance with the interests of those who control the economy; real [308] gains by the oppressed have only been won by direct action which has scared property owners and legislators into making concessions.

The natural tendencies of government in general are mani fested in the case of representative government by centralism and a unification of functions which clearly leads to practical incompetence, particularly since the typical legislator attempts to deal with a multitude of issues, on all of which he cannot be expected to have real knowledge.

"A veritable Proteus, omniscient and omnipresent, today a soldier and tomorrow a pigman, successively a banker, an academician, a street-sweeper, doctor, astronomer, drug-manufacturer, tanner, or contractor, according to the orders of the day in Parliament, he never knows a moment's hesitation. Accustomed in his capacity as lawyer, journalist or public orator to speak of things he knows nothing of, he votes for all these and other questions as well with only this difference: while in the newspapers he merely amused with his gossip, and in the court room his voice only awoke the sleeping judges, in Parliament he will make laws for thirty or forty million inhabitants."
Against the passive obedience, waste and bureaucracy of representative government, Kropotkin raises his ideal of a society based on individual and communal responsibility and voluntary agreement, "the formation from the simple to the composite of groups constituted freely for the satisfaction of all the multiple needs of individuals in society".

His attack on government does not, indeed, end with its parliamentary form. He is equally opposed to the so-called revolutionary government, whether elected or dictatorial, by which State socialists claim they will bridge the period of transition to a free society. In the essay entitled Revolutionary Government he examines a series of historical instances and shows how the attempt to consecrate a revolution by the establishment of an authority merely halts further development and begins the process of retrogression. This happens because a revolution is a growing movement and cannot be restricted within an institutionalised form.

"The practical solution will not be found, will not be made clear until the change will have already begun. It will be the product of [309] the revolution itself, of the people in action, or else it will be nothing, the brains of a few individuals being absolutely incapable of finding solutions which can only spring from the life of the people."

Any government tends to crystallise progress at the point of its own development, and then, in resisting further change, to become the bulwark from which counter-revolution can advance. Nor can it be regarded as an instrument capable of the task of reorganisation which, altering all that is today based on property and exchange, will be "so immense and so profound ... that it is impossible for one or any individual to elaborate the different social forms which must spring up in the society of the future". This can only be done by the "collective suppleness of mind of the whole people", and any external authority will merely be an obstacle, and a "source of discord and hatred".

While it can be admitted that these contentions show a somewhat extreme narodnik faith in the people, it must be stressed in Kropotkin's favour that all his arguments regarding the faults of revolutionary government were thoroughly based on past events, and have been confirmed in our own day by the example of Bolshevik Russia.

If we admit the criticisms of the path followed by State socialists, what is the anarchist alternative? Kropotkin puts forward a theory of revolution and sketches the main features of the kind of society at which he would aim.

We have already seen that in 1872, on his first visit to the Jura, he had come to regard revolution as a phase in social evolution, largely independent of individual initiative and obeying obscure laws of mass impulse. In his essay, The Spirit of Revolt, he elaborates this conception. At certain periods the existing social framework, which may in the past have evolved in accordance with economic demands, now becomes incapable of dealing with the cumulative effect of social change. Growing and active elements in society become aware of its inadequacy and move towards revolt. The existing authorities try by repression to halt the rebellious impulses, and thus to economic demands is added a sense of injustice which further inflames opposition to the government. At such times attempts at gradual adjustment are made. But these reforms are of no avail; [310] they merely show the impossibility of anything short of a complete and immediate reconstruction. "Such periods demand revolution. It becomes a social necessity; the situation in itself is revolutionary."

Revolution itself is the act of the masses, but it is always prepared by minorities conscious of the realities of their situation, who have a clear conception of the necessary remedies, and who pursue a policy of continuous action, on all planes, "in order to keep the spirit alive, to propagate and find expression for dissatisfaction, to excite hatred against exploiters, to ridicule the government and expose its weakness, and above all and always, by actual example, to awaken courage and fan the spirit of revolt".

It is this action which appeals to the masses, and which will one day lead them into casting aside their fears and advancing courageously to the destruction of the old order. And for this reason, says Kropotkin in this persuasive apology for the theory of "propaganda by deed", the greatest influence in a revolutionary situation will adhere to that group which has made itself most respected by the people for its continual activity, even though there may be other groups who have worked out their theories more fully and made more thorough propaganda by speech and writing.

But Kropotkin does not suggest that the revolutionary groups should assume power. Their role would be to awaken the revolutionary consciousness of the people, and to keep it directed towards fundamental goals. But he insists that the revolution will be nothing, if, after overthrowing the authority to which it is opposed, it does not immediately proceed to the satisfaction of real grievances.

"If on the morrow of the revolution the masses of the people have only phrases at their service, if they do not recognise, 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 tomorrow to the situation of yesterday, the conquest of today must be worth the trouble of defending; the poor of yesterday must not be poor today."


In our age, says Kropotkin, there is only one way of achieving this clear satisfaction of popular needs, and that is by means of a full expropriation by the oppressed of social goods and means of production. He recognises that a total change of attitude cannot be expected immediately, but the breakdowns of authority in which revolutions occur make it possible to lay the foundations of such a change. Moreover, all the various manifestations of social and economic life are interconnected so intimately that only a complete transformation can ensure against a retrogression such as has followed every revolution in the past.

"... 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."

Farms, stores, workshops, railways, all are necessary if a complete and lasting social change is to be effected, if the people are not to find themselves once again under the heel of the oppressor.

The method of administering the social amenities which have been expropriated, and of replacing the government of men by the administration of things and services, Kropotkin finds in the commune. By this he means the local association of individuals linked by residential ties, or other bonds of interest, for the satisfaction of common needs. By a clear analysis of the functioning of urban and rural communes in the Middle Ages he shows, not only that this is practicable, but also that it provides an insurance against both economic want and political oppression that cannot exist in the centralised State. But he also shows that, while the mediaeval commune was often a little isolated "State", the technological progress of modern society makes such a clear division impossible. Communes, urban and rural, composed alike of peasants and industrial workers, will be the centres of life and production in town and country, but they will also be points of intersection in a whole network of [312] federal associations for various purposes, while each commune itself will be a federation of smaller groups of individuals.

"For us, 'Commune' is no longer a territorial agglomeration; it is rather a generic name, a synonym for the grouping of equals, knowing neither frontiers nor walls. The social commune will soon cease to be a clearly defined whole. Each group of the commune will necessarily be drawn towards other similar groups in other communes; it will be grouped and federated with them by links as solid as those which attach it to its fellow citizens, and will constitute a commune of interests whose members are scattered in a thousand towns and villages."

He sees already a tendency in this direction in the many scientific, literary, and sports organisations which link thousands of people in all countries. The universal application of this principle will constitute the pattern of future society. "It is by free groupings that the social commune will be organised, and these groupings themselves will overthrow walls and frontiers."

Each commune will itself consist of associated groups of producers, and for the satisfaction of regional needs there will be spontaneous associations between communes and their component groups. Of course, it is possible that the various communes may become jealous of each other, may even be drawn into physical conflict. But Kropotkin does not regard this as a very formidable danger, for there will be common interests as well as grievances, and the existence of bonds between individuals and groups outside the communes will tend to prevent the emergence of territorial strife.

In Paroles d'un Revolte this communal conception of society is necessarily sketched out roughly, yet Kropotkin manages to make his picture very convincing and at the same time he discusses many important related subjects. Here we have room to pay special attention only to the study of Law and Authority, in which he discusses one essential feature of the anarchist case -- the contention that law and authority are unnecessary for human relationships -- more than this, that they are positively harmful and evil.

He begins by tracing the development of law, through primitive superstitions, exploited by certain classes in order to ensure their domination, and afterwards through the decrees [313] of conquerors. These laws, he says, have little social significance, except in a few cases where such a rule of sociability as "thou shalt not kill" has been incorporated with reservations into the written law. But the greater proportion of the normal intercourse of men is carried on, even in authoritarian societies, by custom and free agreement, with the law interfering only in exceptional cases.

Most laws, in fact, have one of two objects. They are intended either to protect property or to maintain the machinery of government, which is in its turn an institution for protecting property. If property, in itself an immoral exploitation of the labour and needs of others, were abolished, most so-called crime would cease, for even offences against the person are usually caused by the existence of property or by the psychological disorders produced by want or superfluity. Genuine crimes of passion are very few, and not likely to increase because of the lack of punishment.

If law is of little use, except as means of protecting property, it creates a great deal of harm by the brutalising effect of physical punishment, the degradation produced by the encouragement of informing, and the wholesale evils of prison life.

"Finally, consider what corruption, what depravity of mind is kept up among men by the idea of obedience, the very essence of law; of chastisement; of authority having the right to punish, to judge irrespective of our conscience and the esteem of our friends; of the necessity for executioners, jailers and informers -- in a word, by all the attributes of law and authority. Consider all this, and you will assuredly agree with us in saying that a law inflicting penalties is an abomination which should cease to exist. . . . The main supports of crime are idleness, law and authority; laws about property, laws about government, laws about penalties and misdemeanours; and authority, which takes upon itself to manufacture these laws and to apply them."

In place of law, Kropotkin sets the network of custom and free contract which unites men and regulates their daily life together, and which in a society of free communes would naturally extend to all features of social life. One of the first duties of a revolution must be to abolish law and its penal instruments, and thus clear the ground for goodwill to abolish the incentives to crime. [314]


The Conquest of Bread, although it covers the same ground as Kropotkin's first book -- the anarchist idea of revolution and the resultant free society -- is markedly different both in style and emphasis. It also is a collection of essays, written originally for Le Revolte and La Revolte, but conceived as a series to fit into a broad general plan. Moreover, these essays were not produced under the stress of editorial responsibility, and were eventually collected by their author himself, who was able to smooth out irregularities and fit them more happily into an integrated whole. And they were all written five or more years after the Geneva articles; during the intervening time Kropotkin had gone through the period of reflection at Clairvaux, and had since settled in the relatively moderate atmosphere of England. As a result, the emphasis was very largely shifted from revolutionary tactics to a discussion of the reasons why a life of "well-being for all" is scientifically possible, and a somewhat elaborate sketch of the free society of the future and the anarchist answer to various social problems. It is Kropotkin's nearest approach to a Utopia, yet it can hardly be called Utopian, since he does not actually construct an imaginary society. Like most anarchists he regards an exhaustive plan of the future as both absurd and harmful, since it attempts to interfere with the liberty of those who may. at some time create a society based on free agreement; instead, he begins always from a problem which vexes people at the present time and moves on to a rational discussion of how it might be solved within the framework of a society which would depend, unlike our own, on production for use and not for profit, and which had for its real aim the discovery of a means or a variety of means by which the needs of all may be reconciled and satisfied.

The whole basic theme of The Conquest of Bread is to be found in the contention that the heritage of humanity -- the means of production as well as the product -- is a collective one, in which it is impossible to distinguish the contribution of various individuals, and that therefore it should be enjoyed collectively.

"Individual appropriation is neither just nor serviceable. All belongs to all. All things are for all men, since all men have need of [3I5] 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. ... All is for all! 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 them well-being."

Hence it arises that social life should be based neither on the ruthless competition of capitalist individualism nor on the restrictive regulation of State socialism, but on solidarity between individuals, on voluntary co-operation, which alone provides the atmosphere where justice can be done to all. Capitalists and rulers, he points out, have found the virtue of free agreement in their international railway and postal conventions, which work smoothly without any coercive threat, and the same principle has been found workable in communal societies of many kinds in past history. There is no really valid reason why these principles, which have been applied widely in the past, and are still applied partially, should not become universal in a rational society, so that the need for the State or any authority will vanish and be replaced by the federative structure of libertarian communes.

Anarchist communism, it should here be stressed, has nothing to do with the economic or political theories put forward by communist parties in the twentieth century. Present-day "Communism" is what the communists of sixty years ago would have called State socialism. The communism of Kropotkin was a theory that envisaged the ownership of means of production by associations or communes of producers, organised on a voluntary basis and connected federally, in which each man would do whatever work he could and receive from the common pool of goods sufficient to provide for his needs without exchange or money. This would prevent the return of the wages system and the accumulation of capital in individual hands, while avoiding the somewhat absurd attempt of earlier theoreticians to ensure that each man should enjoy the exact product of his own labour.

It represented the culmination of a long period of development in economic ideas. Godwin, the father of anarchism, had been less concerned with economic than with moral considerations, but he had already claimed that accumulated property [316] is the basis of all tyranny and injustice and that need is the only fair standard by which we can assess who should use a given article or commodity. On the other hand, Godwin's conception cannot truly be called communist, since he distrusted co-operation and seems to have envisaged a society of individual craftsmen and farmers living by the exchange of necessities. It is difficult to determine how much influence Godwin's ideas actually had on the early Continental anarchists; certainly he was not mentioned among them until the later days of Kropotkin's career, but it is possible that his ideas permeated indirectly, via Benjamin Constant and Robert Owen, to the men of 1848, and thence to the International.

Proudhon, the first Continental anarchist, shared Godwin's distrust of close co-operation in production, and also envisaged an end to accumulated property and interest, which he regarded as the principal means of operating capitalism. Associations he admitted to be necessary for carrying out certain work, but he clearly wished them to be reduced to a minimum, and saw society as a network of mutual contracts between individu producers. He still regarded exchange and remuneration essential, and, while he did not insist on the eventual continuance of money, suggested a scheme of labour cheques whic would take its place. Exchanges of goods between individul producers would operate through a Bank of the People, and by this means work would be paid for by labour cheques equivalent to the hours expended. Proudhon always declared himself opposed to communism, which was then associated with the authoritarian social ideas put forward by the Babeuvists and later by the Blanquists and Marx, the founder of "scientific socialism".

Bakunin, the third great anarchist thinker, did not elaborate very thoroughly his ideas on economics. He was a man of action concerned primarily with the overthrow of the State, and seems to have considered that the actual form of the free society must be left to shape itself spontaneously. Unlike Proudhon, he believed in the need for co-operation, and foresaw a society more in accordance with large-scale industrial production, in which the workers would be organised in associations for productive purposes. He envisaged what he called a collective system, by which the means of production would become the [317] common property of society, vested in the groups of producers. But he did not work out fully the question of the distribution of products and still held that the worker was entitled to the equivalent value of his actual labour. This view was originally shared by Guillaume and the earlier anarchists of the International.

The emergence of anarchist communism, by which the product as well as the means of production would be held in common and distributed according to need, can be traced to the middle of the 1870's, and with some certainty to the year 1876. It seems highly probable that in part it was due to the arrival in Switzerland of the refugees from the Paris Commune, many of whom had been associated with various communist and Utopian groups during and after 1848. Reclus, in particular, had been an active propagater of the ideas of Fourier, who foresaw a society of phalansteries practising a mitigated community of goods.

It has often been suggested that Kropotkin was the originator of anarchist communism. This was not so, and he never claimed it. Nor, as Max Nettlau has pointed out, is there any truth in the legend of his "stormy urge" towards it. By the time he became an open and convinced exponent, the idea had been circulating for some years, and Cherkesov was probably right when in 1895 he said that since 1877 everybody had accepted the idea of anarchist communism and only shied away from the name. The earlier brief reference appears in a tiny pamphlet, Aux travailleurs manuels partisans de l'Action politique, which Kropotkin's friend Dumartheray published in Geneva in 1876, and from which it appears that the group there, probably under the influence of Reclus, was already well advanced in its discussion of anarchist communism. From that year also the Italian groups were discussing this more logical idea of economic organisation. But it was not until the Jura Congress of 1880 that Kropotkin actually pressed the question in an urgent manner, and then not alone, as is shown by a letter to Guillaume in 1903, where he said:

"Thus, without knowing that the Italians had done this already at their last congress, I worked for the Jura federation to call itself communist at its Congress of 1880. Elisee, Cafiero, and I got in touch [318] over this; it was accepted, and from then onwards our paper, Le Revolte, became communist anarchist. From that moment onwards dated the successes of anarchism in France. . . ."

But if Kropotkin was not the sole originator of anarchist communism, he was perhaps the most active among its initiators, and certainly the theoretician who gave it a reasoned and scientific basis, particularly in The Conquest of Bread.

Many important questions relating to anarchist economics are raised in the latter part of this book, in which Kropotkin attacks the ideas of production and consumption maintained by the orthodox economists, whether liberal or Marxist, denounces the wages system and the current theories of "division of labour", and advocates industrial decentralisation, the better integration of urban and rural activities, and the use of intensive scientific methods of food production, which last point he regarded as the practical keystone of success for the revolution and the free society. He attacks the economists because they proceed from a consideration of production as it exists in their time and thence discuss the means by which the consumption needs can be satisfied. Kropotkin contends that this attitude is wholly fallacious, and that a rational consideration of the problem would begin with needs and proceed to their satisfaction, since it is need that originally urges man to produce. A further assumption of orthodox capitalist and Marxist economists which he sets out to disprove is the theory of over-production. He shows clearly that the troubles of a capitalist society are due, not to over-production, but to under-consumption. It is merely a question of the consumers being debarred by the financial system from ever satisfying the full extent of their needs; if this barrier were dissolved we should find that the present is in fact a period of under-production. The theory of over-production is one which makes its perennial appearance whenever economic crises occur, and it may therefore not be unprofitable to give the gist of Kropotkin's simple but effective refutation:

"Is there a single economist, academician, or candidate for academical honours, who has not supported arguments proving that economic crises are due to over-production -- that at a given [319] moment more cotton, more cloth, more watches are produced than are needed? Have we not, all of us, thundered against the rapacity of the capitalists who are obstinately bent on producing more than can possibly be consumed?

"However, on careful examination, all these reasonings prove unsound. In fact, is there one single commodity among those in universal use which is produced in greater quantity than need be? Examine one by one all commodities sent out by countries exporting on a large scale, and you will see that nearly all are produced in insufficient quantities for the inhabitants of the countries exporting them. . . .

"As a rule it is not a surplus that is exported, though it may have been so originally. The fable of the barefooted shoemaker is as true of nations as it was formerly of individual artisans. We export the necessary commodities. And we do so because the workmen cannot buy with their wages what they have produced, and pay besides the rent and interest to the capitalist and the banker.

"Not only does the ever-growing need of comfort remain unsatisfied, but the strict necessities of life are often wanting. Therefore, 'surplus production' does not exist, at least not in the sense given to it by the theorists of Political Economy."

He begins his own investigation by considering the elementary needs of men -- food, clothing and shelter, and comes to the conclusion that if all men worked on the basic requirements instead of producing luxuries or indulging in the socially useless employments of the capitalist State, it would be possible to produce enough of the basic necessities in a relatively short period of work, and leave a high proportion of leisure in which each man could satisfy his desires for individually creative activity. He goes into the question of production in some detail, and arrives after very reasonable calculations, at the conclusion that the basic necessities for each family could be produced in 150 days a year of five hours each, with another 150 days for the secondary necessities, such as wine, furniture, transport, etc. Here he falls into almost Utopian language as he describes the result of his calculations:

"After studying all these facts together we may arrive, then, at the following conclusion: Imagine a society, comprising a few million inhabitants, engaged in agriculture and a great variety of industries -- Paris, for example, with the Department of Seine-et-Oise. Suppose that in this society all children learn to work with their hands [320] as well as with their brains. Admit that all adults, save women, engaged in the education of their children, bind themselves to work five hours a day from the age of twenty or twenty-two to forty-five or fifty, and that they follow occupations they have chosen themselves in any one of those branches of human work which in this city are considered necessary. Such a society could in return guarantee well-being to all its members, a well-being more substantial than that enjoyed today by the middle classes."

It is a vision which is in no way unreasonable, even if one considers only the standard of productivity of a country like the United States, and the increase of useful goods that would ensue if the artificial restraints of the capitalist market and the demands of the organs of the State were removed.

Kropotkin, unlike many of the Utopians, demanded no Spartan sacrifices from the members of his communes; on the contrary, he devoted a whole chapter to "the need for luxury", and contended that:

"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 character, will thrust themselves forward. These needs are of the greatest variety; they vary in each and every individual; and the more society is civilised, the more will individuality be developed, and the more will desires be varied. . . . Would life, with all its inevitable drudge and sorrows, be worth living if, besides daily work, man could never obtain a single pleasure according to his individual tastes?"

The first task of the revolution is indeed the rectification of existing social iniquities and the assurance to all men of bread and the prime necessities. But a society that destroys all artistic tastes, all love of pleasure, will destroy also individual feeling, and therefore Kropotkin declares that, "After bread has been secured, leisure is the chief aim". And by leisure he means the facilities for each man to follow, in the time free from essential work, all those individual inclinations which produce art, literature, and science. He sees this achieved by a great extension of mutual-interest associations, similar to the existing learned societies, but embracing all amateurs of each particular activity. Thus science and the arts will be freed from the domination of money and, "exclusively cultivated by those who love them, [321] and for those who love them", will take "their proper place in the work of human development". The fact that all writers and scientists will also do their share of chosen manual work Kropotkin sees as an advantage, since it will give strength and balance to the work they produce in the study or laboratory.

Allied to these questions are those of agreeable work and division of labour. Here Kropotkin has much to say in anticipation of those who are trying to change the industrial system of our own day. A great deal of the unpleasantness of manual work, he contends, lies in the remediable conditions under which it is normally conducted. There is no reason why work in a factory should not be as healthy and devoid of nervous strain as that in a laboratory. When men are free and all do their share of manual work, these conditions will certainly change, for those who labour voluntarily will not endure as much as those who work under the duress of want or more direct coercion. And this will in turn affect the efficiency of industry, for, Kropotkin remarks wisely, "the most important economy, the only reasonable one, is to make life pleasant for all, because the man who is satisfied with his life produces infinitely more than the man who curses his surroundings".

Similarly, women will at last be truly emancipated through the elimination of household drudgery by new mechanical devices and communal domestic services. Kropotkin states emphatically that he does not necessarily envisage phalansteries or the communal dining-rooms and living-quarters so often regarded as essential by Utopian communities. People must make what domestic arrangements they choose, for privacy is essential to many, and "isolation, alternating with time spent in society, is the normal desire of human nature".

All these contentions are mere good sense, and have become so much a commonplace among advanced sociologists and even enlightened factory owners that they do not seem in any way revolutionary to the contemporary reader. We have to see them in relation to the working and living conditions generally considered sufficient for industrial workers in the 1880's to realise that they were then quite daring proposals.

In Kropotkin's view the most spiritually destroying feature of capitalist society was that "division of labour" which, following Adam Smith, economists had elevated to a necessary principle. [322] In The Conquest of Bread he merely sketches his objections to this system, and we will leave his more developed arguments until we discuss Fields, Factories and Workshops; here it is sufficient to note his eloquent remark that:

"The division of labour means labelling and stamping men for life -- some to splice ropes in factories, some to be foremen in a business, others to shove huge coal-baskets in a particular part of a mine; but none of them to have any idea of machinery as a whole, nor of business, nor of mines. And thereby they destroy the love of work and the capacity for invention that, at the beginning of modern industry, created the machinery on which we pride ourselves."

Similarly, there appear in The Conquest of Bread references to decentralisation of industry, and to intensive agriculture, which are also more amply treated in Fields, Factories and Workshops, and which we note here merely to show that these preoccupations were already troubling Kropotkin during the 1880's, at least ten years before he elaborated them in his larger book. There remains one important chapter of The Conquest of Bread, provocatively entitled "Objections", in which Kropotkin dismisses some of the more important difficulties associated in the general mind with the application of anarchist communism, and which can be summarised in the question: "What is to be done with the man who will not work?" Anarchist communism, as we have already explained, repudiates the wages system because it is a form of compulsion in the spirit of the Biblical threat, "He that will not work, neither shall he eat", and also because it seems impossible to arrive at a just decision as to how much a man is entitled to receive as his share of the common production. Therefore the anarchist communist suggests the abolition of remuneration, whether in money or, as the Owenites had suggested, in labour cheques, and the recognition of the fundamental principle, "From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs": by which is meant that all men will do what essential work they wish, regulating relationships with their neighbours by voluntary contract, and will receive from the common pool as a natural right whatever they need in order to satisfy their reasonable desires. In other words, an anarchist communist society would be one "that recognises the [323] absolute liberty of the individual, that does not admit of any authority, and makes use of no compulsion to drive men to work".

Against this is commonly raised the objection: "If the existence of each is guaranteed, and if the necessity of earning wages does not compel men to work, nobody will work. Every man will lay the burden of his work on another if he is not forced to do it himself." To this Kropotkin has a number of pertinent answers.

Firstly, he points out that in the past, when men have been freed from compulsion, as in the emancipation of the French and Russian peasants, they have worked for themselves with much more vigour than they had ever toiled for the masters whose chattels they formerly were. In fact, far from compulsion having been an incentive, it has always made men work less willingly and well than they might have done in better conditions. On the other hand he contends :

"Well-being -- that is to say, the satisfaction of physical, artistic and moral needs, has always been the most powerful stimulant to work. And where a hireling hardly succeeds to produce the bare necessities with difficulty, a free worker, who sees ease and luxury increasing for him and for others in proportion to his efforts, spends infinitely far more energy and intelligence, and obtains products in a far greater abundance. The one feels riveted to misery, the other hopes for ease and luxury in the future. In this lies the whole secret. Therefore a society aiming at the well-being of all, and at the possibility of all enjoying life in all its manifestations, will give voluntary work, which will be infinitely superior and yield far more than work has produced up till now under the goad of slavery, serfdom or wagedom."

Nowadays, says Kropotkin, everybody tries to avoid his share of basic manual work, because of the stigma of inferiority attached to it and the bad conditions under which it has to be done. But when the merit of work is seen in its social necessity, and when it is carried on in free and pleasant conditions, the general attitude will change. Here, although Kropotkin does not use it, we might instance the not uncommon case of the city worker who despises the agricultural labourer because of his inferior social status and his poverty, but who himself gladly spends his spare time energetically cultivating his garden. Similarly, [324] the majority of sports can reasonably be regarded as a form of perverted manual labour, performed voluntarily by those who are inhibited by social prejudice from ploughing or carrying bricks.

But even when it has been granted that men will generally work as well or even better under a voluntary system, there still remains the objection that the real danger lies in the loafers who will wish to take advantage of the conscientious members of the community. Kropotkin's first answer is that a free society could protect itself from this danger without using authoritarian penalties or sanctions. In all societies there are moral standards independent of authority which deter men from certain actions because of the disapproval of their fellows. A free society would be no different, and a group threatened by idlers would undoubtedly make use of this method of influencing recalcitrant members. Kropotkinin fact composes a little exhortation which an imaginary commune might make to those who sought to join it, and in which, after asking the recruit to work twelve hundred hours a year in some socially useful occupation of his own choice, it would continue:

"But if not one of the thousands of groups of our federation will receive you, whatever be their motive; 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 necessaries of life we shall be delighted to give them to you. You are a man, and you have the 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 some friends of yours, discovering you to be a talent, kindly free you from all moral obligations towards society by doing all the necessary work for you.

"And finally, if it does not please you, go and look for other conditions elsewhere in the wide world, or else seek adherents and organise with them on novel principles. We prefer our own."

Clearly Kropotkin thought that even if an anarchist society would not need the economic or physical coercion employed in other societies, it might on occasion be justified in applying moral pressure to save itself from anti-social individuals; which might be held to constitute moral coercion. However, most [325] anarchist theoreticians, from Godwin onwards, have regarded the use of public opinion as a necessary means of restraining anti-social individuals. And it must be admitted that Kropotkin gave very good reasons to suggest that in a society which had returned to a condition of equilibrium, such cases become rare, since, as he points out, most idleness is due to sickness, psychological maladjustment, or the lack of proper training. Indeed, in a healthy human being it is such a rare phenomenon that it is very unlikely to be a real danger in a society where every effort is made to reduce maladjustment and where work has a real incentive. Even the rich are not really idle; usually their days are filled with activity which, although often a futile waste of energy, shows that man naturally needs occupation and that if circumstances prevent him from finding it in a natural way, he will do so in a perverted manner. Therefore the danger of the lazy man is slight, and this key objection of those who oppose a free society falls to the ground.

In writing The Conquest of Bread Kropotkin became even more aware of the importance in any social revolutionary programme of certain subjects which had not previously received sufficient attention from theoreticians, and particularly the question of the increase of production. He therefore set about investigating the agricultural and industrial systems of his time, and the means by which they might be improved to give the greatly increased production necessary for realising general well-being. In his Memoirs he links this investigation with his criticism of contemporary economists and his attacks on the current myth of over-production. All these questions are, indeed, discussed in the final chapters of The Conquest of Bread, but Kropotkin was not content with a mere sketch of this subject. He recognised that such unorthodox arguments would need to be supported by a mass of carefully documented information, and that they should be presented in a form, devoid of sectarian language, which would appeal to men not as propaganda but as scientific argument. For some years he worked conscientiously at this research, using what he called the inductive-deductive method, by which he meant that having formed certain generalised conclusions from an observation of social tendencies, he now began to sift all the relevant facts with the intention of supporting or modifying his conclusions. It may perhaps be contended that a [326] true scientist should gather his facts first and then elaborate his theory. But in practice very few research workers have begun without certain preconceptions, and at whatever stage it is reached, a scientific theory requires a certain act of intuition before the maze of facts begins to assume shape.

The result of Kropotkin's research was Fields, Factories and Workshops, a treatise on economic regionalism and the integration of industrial activities. He begins by considering thaf even in his own day the specialisation of certain countries in industrial production was being broken down by the spread of factories in what had formerly been consumer areas. He regards this tendency as an excellent correction of the top-heavy structure of nineteenth-century industrialism, and as a beginning of that disintegration of economic imperialism which is necessary before the anomaly of exporting goods widely, while their producers are in need, can be brought to an end.

He sees regional specialisation in industry as another aspect of that division of labour which he condemns in the field of individual work, and advocates decentralisation and the local and individual integration of work as a necessary basis for healthy social and personal lives.

"Political economy has hitherto insisted chiefly upon division. We proclaim integration; and we maintain that the ideal of society -- that is, the state towards which society is already marching -- is a society of combined, integrated labour. A society where each individual is a producer of both manual and intellectual work; where each able-bodied human being is a worker, and where each worker works both in the field and in the industrial workshop; where each aggregation of individuals, large enough to dispose of a certain variety of natural resources -- it may be a nation, or rather a region -- produces and itself consumes most of its own agricultural and manufactured produce."

He acknowledges that such a change in the processes of production is not likely to take place when conditions allow "the owners of land and capital to appropriate for themselves, under the protection of the State and historical rights, the yearly surplus of human production". But capitalist industry, with its crises and tendencies towards recurrent imperialist wars, carries within itself the seeds of its own destruction, and he is more [327] concerned with the errors of those socialists who think to dispense with the evils associated with the present relationship of capital and labour without taking such factors into consideration.

"A reorganised society will have to abandon the fallacy of nations specialised for the production of either agricultural or manufactured produce. It will have to rely on itself for the production of food and many, if not most, of the raw materials; it must find the best means of combining agriculture with manufacture -- the work in the field with the decentralised industry; and it will have to provide for 'integrated education', which education alone, by teaching both science and handicraft from earliest childhood, can give to society the men and women it really needs."

From his first general survey of the tendency towards the expansion of industry more evenly over the world, Kropotkin proceeds to a closer examination of the possibilities of a highly increased agricultural production, particularly in the industrial countries.

This question of integrated agriculture had occurred to him originally in his days as an agitator, and it then took the form of a problem in revolutionary tactics. His study of the revolutions of the past had taught him that the question which took precedence over all others in the long run was that of bread, of the provision of sufficient food for the people. Scarcity, he realised, had always played into the hands of enemies of the revolution, both by giving them a means to starve out the people while they were firm in their support of a revolutionary change, and also by enabling them to exploit any weakening of that support. In a city like Paris a complete seizure of all the food and other necessities might enable starvation to be halted for a period. But if, at the end of that time, arrangements had not been made for growing a vastly increased supply in the areas controlled by the revolutionary people, all their achievements would be at the mercy of blockade without or speculators within, as it had been during the French Revolution. The first task of a revolution must therefore be to institute an efficient agricultural policy, by which intensive methods and a sufficient supply of labour, machinery and fertilisers would ensure a rapid increase in the productivity of the soil. It was mostly from this point of view that Kropotkin discussed the matter in [328] The Conquest of Bread. But he soon saw that the question of intensive farming had a much wider application, and that it took its place in the greater sociological concept of an integrated society in which a regional and individual balance of functions might be obtained.

He views the situation existing in his own day, and still persisting in ours, in which most manufacturing countries grow insufficient food and import large quantities from abroad. From a conscientious consideration of agricultural potentialities, he comes to the conclusion that it is in fact possible for countries like Great Britain to feed their present populations in abundance. His calculations are based on the actual results of intensive methods used regularly by market gardeners, and even by ordinary peasants in some countries. While he makes reference to exceptional results obtained under special conditions, he does not use these instances as the bases of his main calculations. At present we cannot go into all the figures he produces, and in any case they are now rather out of date, since present cultivation techniques are even more advanced. Some years ago one of the authors of the present book carried out an investigation of the potential agricultural production of Great Britain, and his conclusions fully confirmed Kropotkin's, since he found that if the arable acreages of 1870 were recovered, if the pastures that have declined into rough grazing and waste land were reclaimed, if the ordinary standards of cultivation of Denmark, Holland and Belgium were equalled, and if grass were cultivated as in Switzerland, all the basic foods at present used in this country could be grown with ease, and without even resorting to the more intensive methods of the laboratory. [See New Life to the Land by George Woodcock, London, 1942.]

Kropotkin is a fervent advocate of regional self-sufficiency in food production, but not merely for tactical reasons. He recognises that the food, being fresh, would be more healthy, he sees the spread of land work as a contributory factor in social regeneration, and he considers that the extra labour required would be met by eliminating "the amount of labour that must be spent for obtaining them under an irrational culture, for collecting them abroad, for transporting them, and for keeping armies of middlemen".

From agriculture he turns to industry, and shows with equal [329] detail that despite the spread of large factories much industry has been left to small localised workshops, which are more efficient for many forms of production and which the diffusion of electric power has helped to maintain. Here again his examples have been superseded, but it would certainly be very easy to produce similar figures to show that in our own day, however far large-scale industry may have spread, small factories and workshops still hold their own; though it would be difficult to argue that the domination of the larger units had in any way been reduced since the turn of the century.

Looking into the future, Kropotkin foresees that under the stimulus of modern technics it will be possible for a decentralised and regionalised industry to replace the large factory aggregations, and here again he visualises the possibility of a great enrichment of life in the mingling of agriculture and industry, not only by making factories rural, but also by allowing people to alternate field with factory work.

"The scattering of industries over the country -- so as to bring the factory amidst the fields, to make agriculture derive all those profits which it always finds in being combined with industry and to produce a combination of industrial with agricultural work -- is surely the next step to be taken, so soon as a reorganisation of present conditions is possible. . . . This step is imposed by the very necessity of producing for the producers themselves; it is imposed by the necessity for each healthy man and woman to spend a part of their lives in manual work in the free air; and it will be rendered the more necessary when the great social movements, which have now become unavoidable, come to disturb the present international trade, and compel each nation to revert to her own resources for her own maintenance."

In advancing these views of the integration of rural and urban life, Kropotkin was the precursor of a whole movement which has become much more self-conscious today than it was fifty years ago, and which embraces not only the theories of men like Patrick Geddes and Lewis Mumford, but also the garden-city experiments of Ebenezer Howard and the schemes for satellite towns which have formed a feature of post-war plans of reconstruction. In the practical field his ideas have been confirmed by a general tendency (by no means wholly fulfilled) towards the industrialisation of agriculture, and a parallel [330] tendency, whose extent it is difficult to estimate, for factories to move into the rural areas. But these are no more than tendencies, and the complete social transformation of which Kropotkin would regard them as symptoms lies yet in the free society of an unpredictable future.

This process of social integration, Kropotkin contends, can only become complete if it is accompanied by a change in the outlook and education of individuals in the direction of an "integration of capacities", involving the abolition of division of labour and the acquisition of a variety of occupations, embracing both hand and brain work and giving an understanding of the whole productive process in which at a given moment the worker may be involved in one specific operation. To this end he anticipates more recent educationalists by advocating an "integral education", which will replace the old academic intellectual training by methods cultivating mental and physical aptitudes at the same time.

Finally, from all these changes both in social environment and in training individuals, Kropotkin foresees a society in which a steady improvement will result from the full application of scientific resources -- unrestrained by vested interest -- to increasing production and reducing toil. All this, he warns, will be conditional on men realising that "in order to be rich they need not take the bread from the mouths of others", but can gain by their own united skill and intelligence "all imaginable riches". In these circumstances, he prophesies:

"Technics and science . . . will reduce the time which is necessary for producing wealth to any desired amount, so as to leave to everyone as much leisure as he or she may ask for. They surely cannot guarantee happiness, because happiness depends as much, or even more, upon the individual himself as upon his surroundings. But they guarantee, at least, the happiness that can be found in the full and varied exercise of the different capacities of the human being, in work that need not be overwork, and in the consciousness that one is not endeavouring to base his own happiness upon the misery of others."


In putting forward these propositions, Kropotkin was always faced by a powerful set of arguments which had the support of many scientists and which, until dealt with on their own ground, [331] threatened to destroy the edifice of reasoning he had built up. These arguments were connected with the fashionable Darwinian theory of evolution, and claimed that in nature there is never enough for all and that, indeed, it is undesirable that there should be, since the most potent force in the evolution of the animal world, and therefore of mankind, is the struggle for existence within the species which by procuring the survival of the fittest acts as a means of natural selection to ensure the progress of the race. These ideas were readily adopted by capitalist apologists of unrestricted competition, and also by the Marxists, who saw in the proletariat the "fittest" class.

The main exponent of the struggle-for-existence theory in the nineteenth century was Thomas Henry Huxley, but the fundamental basis of the discussion, and its use as a justification for the existing social order, was much older than the nineteenth century or the evolutionary controversy in its modern form. During the seventeenth century the authoritarian philosopher Thomas Hobbes, author of Leviathan, had based his justification of the State and of monarchical authority on the theory that primitive man is naturally given to fratricidal struggle and that the social virtues can be implanted in him only by the force of a superior authority. At the end of the eighteenth century the argument was carried into the realm of economics, and by what can hardly be regarded as a coincidence was connected intimately with the first appearance of anarchism as a mature and complete social doctrine. In 1793 William Godwin published his Enquiry concerning Political Justice, which in its time enjoyed a vast intellectual influence, and in which he advocated universal benevolence as the basis of human relationships (a view not far removed from Kropotkin's idea of mutual aid), and suggested, like Kropotkin, that if all men did their share of manual work, if all kinds of socially wasteful activities were eliminated, and if the potentialities of science were exploited fully for the benefit of all, it would be possible to enjoy well-being at the cost of a much smaller expenditure of energy than had been customary in previous societies.

For some years Godwin's arguments went virtually unanswered. But then appeared a clergyman, T. H. Malthus, who contended that there was a natural tendency for population to increase in a higher ratio than any possible increase in the [332] supply of food. This process would clearly result in disaster if there were not certain "positive checks" to the increase in population -- that is to say, such natural phenomena as disease and famine, and such social phenomena as war and the general struggle among individuals by which the weaker goes to the wall. In order to preserve what well-being existed, Malthus argued, it was necessary that this process should be left unchanged, and he therefore denounced Godwin's doctrine of universal benevolence as a conception which would upset the natural limitation of population and defeat itself by producing a society in which the growth of population, outstripping the increase of food supply, would naturally bring disaster and famine to all, instead of to the minorities who are cut off before their prime in the normal process of unrestricted competition. The final result of any attempt at change would therefore be a return, through terrible trials, to the old situation. Things, in fact, were as they were bound to be, and this Pangloss in real life concluded that all talk of improvement in human society was quite chimerical.

It was a consoling doctrine for the factory owners, the generals, and the poor-law administrators in those ruthless days of the early industrial revolution, and no doubt many a capitalist whose child employees were stunted in the mephitic atmosphere of his cotton mills, many a landowner who took away the common lands and helped to turn a well-fed peasantry into a starving rural proletariat, was comforted by the consolation of the Rev. Malthus's assurances. The theories of this amiable Christian were given classic status in the Victorian system of economics, and although it is difficult to realise this in our own day, were accepted by many scientists of standing. But even at the time their basis of reasoning and mathematics was effectively destroyed, not only by Godwin's belated answer in 1820, but also by [William] Hazlitt's prompt Reply to Malthus. Today, when the possibility of vastly increased production of essential goods has been placed beyond reasonable doubt, and when it has been shown by experience that greater well-being and education result in a falling birth-rate, Malthus's basic theory has become untenable, and those who seek a reason to support their argument that the condition of humanity cannot be changed must seek it elsewhere. [333]

The advent of Darwin transferred the argument from the economic to the biological field. In formulating his theory Darwin distinguished himself from previous evolutionists, like Lamarck, Buffon and his own grandfather, by giving emphasis to the struggle for existence as the mechanism by which "natural selection" sorted out favourable variations and destroyed unfavourable ones; he admitted that in reaching this conclusion he was strongly influenced by Malthus's theory of the positive checks to an increase in population, which he felt could also be regarded as potent factors in weeding out inferior individuals in the struggle for life. While Darwin at times gave warning against using the term "struggle for existence" in a too literal sense, it seems clear that he envisaged not only a struggle against environmental factors but also a struggle between individuals, as being dominant in the evolutionary process. While in later years he acknowledged that co-operation was also important, he never developed this idea to any marked degree, and the main basis of his conception of evolution remained the idea of conflict.

Thomas Henry Huxley, his chief apostle and populariser, pushed this tendency to its extreme by his talk of the animal world as "a gladiators' show", and of the life of primitive man as "a continuous free fight". Competition, struggle, animosity, envy, hatred, were the qualities that automatically emerged from Huxley's view as necessary factors in progress. Strife between groups and individuals alike was, according to him, a law of life. Not only was it desirable as a condition of progress, but it was also inevitable.

It will be seen how this theory pleased the apologists of nineteenth-century capitalism in that age of scepticism when the values of orthodox religion were losing their power; scientific materialism of the Huxleyan type, violently opposed on its first appearance, rapidly became as respectable as the untenable doctrines of the Church. Those who felt uneasy about basing their actions on a dubious divine law were very glad to find that natural law had been interpreted by Professor Huxley as an equally strong justification of unlimited competition. Clearly, if such doctrines were true, the basic anarchist theory that men are naturally co-operative was jeopardised. Any conception of a society based on voluntary agreement must be [334] supported by an effective answer to the neo-Malthusian evolutionists, and this Kropotkin gave in Mutual Aid.

His preoccupation, with this aspect of evolution dated from the years before he became concerned with revolutionary theories, for already in the 1860's he and his brother had discussed Darwin's theory of variation at great length and had formed doubts on the question of inheritance, while during his Siberian explorations he had been puzzled to find that there was in fact less evidence of struggle than of co-operation between individuals of the same species. Later, when he became an anarchist and was seeking to found his beliefs on a scientific basis, he was once again troubled by this question. We have already noted his defence, in 1882, of mutualist solidarity as an evolutionary factor, and his introduction, at Clairvaux, to the ideas of Kessler. But it was Huxley's extreme statements about the ferocity of the struggle for existence in 1888 that finally decided Kropotkin to take up the challenge. It must be emphasised that, in spite of Huxley's uncouth behaviour in connection with the petition for his release from Clairvaux, Kropotkin never bore any personal animosity and was always ready, even when pointing out the danger of Huxley's perversions of Darwinism, to praise the courage, learning and intelligence with which he had originally defended the general evolutionary theory against ecclesiastical orthodoxy.

Kropotkin begins Mutual Aid with an examination of the life of animal species. His study is packed with instances from the writings of field naturalists and from his own observations which show that sociability or mutual aid between individuals of the same species is so widespread in all levels of the animal world, from the insects up to the highest mammals, that it can be regarded as a law of nature:

"Those species which live solitarily or in small families only are relatively few, and their numbers are limited. Nay, it appears very probable that, apart from a few exceptions, those birds and mammals which are not gregarious were living in species before man multiplied on the earth and waged a permanent war against them, or destroyed the sources from which they formerly derived food."

Not merely is mutual aid a law of nature except among animals living under somewhat artificial conditions, or among [335] dwindling species, but it is also, in Kropotkin's view, the most important factor in the evolution of social species:

"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 or unwillingly abandon it are doomed to decay; while those animals which know best how to combine have the 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."

Intelligence, nurtured by language, imitation and accumulated experience, Kropotkin regards as "an eminently social faculty". 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" without which social life becomes impossible.

The evidence presented in support of these arguments turns Huxley's view of "nature red in tooth and claw" into a lecture-room scientist's nightmare. But Kropotkin does not wholly dismiss the struggle for existence. It plays its part, he admits, metaphorically in the form of the struggle against adverse circumstances. But in the form of competition within the species it is present only in exceptional circumstances, and even then is injurious rather than advantageous since it dissipates the advantages gained by sociability. Natural selection, far from thriving on competition, seeks out the means by which it can be avoided.

If these ideas apply almost universally to the animal kingdom, they apply also to primitive man, who owes ascendancy in the animal world to his sociability and the aptitudes he cultivates in society. Huxley's vision of primitive man engaged in a perpetual [336] vendetta between individuals and families, like Freud's hypothesis of the primal horde centred round the father, has been proved completely false by three generations of anthropologists. From the time of Lewis Morgan down to the present day, students of primitive man have found everywhere a tendency to live, not in family groups, but in tribal aggregations among whom law as such is unknown, being replaced by a complex system of customs ensuring co-operation and mutual aid. Nor is there any evidence that primitive man was other than a social species; indeed, the relics of early cultures give abundant indication of his primeval sociability and co-operativeness.

Kropotkin, drawing on the accounts of pioneer anthropologists in his own day, proved that within the primitive tribe mutual aid was the rule rather than the exception, and showed how among the barbarians the area of mutual co-operation grew into the village and, through the emergence of the early form of guild, even assumed national and international proportions. Finally, the role of mutual aid in human institutions reached its highest development in the mediaeval free city. Kropotkin, even in his youth, had done much research into the nature of social relationships in these cities, and he was able to bring forward a mass of evidence, gleaned from contemporary records, which showed that the current nineteenth-century ideas of mediaeval life were almost completely wrong, and that within the walls of the free cities and before their decay in the Renaissance, a rich communal life had existed in which mutual aid and co-operative communism played a great part.

These chapters of Kropotkin's book are written with enthusiasm, and it may be that he has tended to gloss over the dark side of life in such societies. Yet he is very conscientious in revealing the internal weaknesses which led to the collapse of the communal spirit at the end of the Middle Ages. And, taking his information as a whole, it makes a most impressive case for the important part mutual aid has played in the development of social activity, and its vital role as the organic bond between human beings. Even today, although the State has assumed such menacing importance in human life, mutual aid survives as the most important factor in the intercourse of men and women, considered as individuals. [337]

"... Neither the crushing powers of the centralised State, nor the teachings of mutual hatred and pitiless struggle which came, adorned with the attributes of science, from obliging philosophers and sociologists, could weed out the feeling of solidarity, deeply lodged in men's understanding and heart, because it had been nurtured by all our preceding evolution. . . . What was the outcome of evolution since its earliest stages cannot be overpowered by one of the aspects of that same evolution. And the need of mutual aid and support which had lately taken refuge in the narrow circle of the family, or the slum neighbours, in the village, or the secret union of workers, reasserts itself again, even in our modern society, and claims its rights to be, as it always has been, the chief leader towards further progress."

Mutual aid and sociability, in fact, are the foundations of every creed of social ethics, every practice of co-operation, and if they did not naturally condition almost all our daily acts towards our fellows, the most austere tyranny could not prevent the disintegration of society.

It was this ethical aspect of mutual aid which Kropotkin developed in his later years, when he wrote his monumental but unfinished work on Ethics, which we shall discuss in our final chapter. Here it is necessary to notice briefly its precursor, a pamphlet entitled Anarchist Morality, first published in 1890. In this .work Kropotkin distinguishes between the so-called moral codes which attempt to govern men's lives from above, and the innate moral sense which naturally plays its part in determining their attitude towards their fellow beings. The former he sees as the heritage of primitive superstitions, taken over by priests and rulers in order to buttress their own authority. It is the instinctive moral sense, based on the sympathy and solidarity inherent in group behaviour, that constitutes true morality. This is expressed in mutual aid, itself the necessary condition of any successful social life, and the basic rule of mutual aid is none other than the ancient maxim, "Do to others as you would have others do to you". But there is more in morality than this, for "if societies knew only this principle of equality; if each man practised merely the equity of the trader, taking care all day long not to give others anything more than he was receiving from them, society would die of it". A greater moral quality is needed, and it emerges in that superabundance of [338] devotion, that desire to give more than is asked, which has always inspired the men whose actions contribute most to the progress of mankind.

If Anarchist Morality represents an extension of the mutual-aid theory into the realm of ethics, The State represents its application in the field of social history. Here Kropotkin shows how human communities based on mutual aid were successful and prosperous, and how, when they deserted that principle and accepted instead the domination of authority, they failed and eventually died away, while the descendants of their members lived progressively more miserably under the over-riding authority of the State. Much of this pamphlet repeats in condensed form the information and arguments of Mutual Aid. But it differs from the longer work in that here Kropotkin examines the evolution of human institutions and reaches the partisan conclusion that anarchy, society without rulership, is the only social form in complete accord with the beneficial principles of social co-operation. Thus, The State can in a way be regarded as the final chapter of the book.

It begins with a description of the free societies, primitive and mediaeval, which existed before the development of centralised power in the modern era (or which, in the case of certain primitive societies in Kropotkin's own day, even contrived to exist in a world for the most part dominated by increasingly centralised States). There follows a description of the way in which these free societies disintegrated under the impact of the rising power of authority in the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance. And finally, analysing the way in which the State has developed since its origin, Kropotkin reaches the conclusion that, if it is allowed to expand unrestrictedly, it will mean social destruction and a new and more terrible Dark Age:

"Either the State will be destroyed and a new life will begin in thousands of centres, on the principle of an energetic initiative of the individual, of groups, and of free agreement, or else the State must crush the individual and local life, it must become the master of all the domains of human activity, must bring with it its wars and international struggles for the possession of power, its surface revolutions which only change one tyrant for another, and inevitably, at the end of this evolution -- death."

In this pamphlet Kropotkin adopted a more scientific attitude than was shown in the early optimism of his prophecies of the ending of centralised social forms, and his warning has been amply fulfilled in a world of all-pervasive government and ever more destructive wars. For this reason we shall return later to these significant contentions.

The last work we have to consider is The Great French Revolution, a lengthy and exhaustive study of events from 1789 to 1793. It is one of the less celebrated of Kropotkin's works, but it is nevertheless an exceptionally good piece of historical writing, and can stand comparison, both for its quality and for the authenticity of its information, with any of the more celebrated histories of this period.

From childhood, from the days of his tutor M. Poulain, the French Revolution had exercised a fascination over Kropotkin's mind, and as we have seen, it was not long after his escape from Russia that he first began the long research into its history which continued, with interruptions, for nearly thirty years. It was after his arrival in England in 1886 that he actually planned The Great French Revolution, which he conceived on a completely different basis from the works of his predecessors, since, regarding the causes of revolutions as economic, he thought it necessary to stress the struggle of the common people for the necessities of life rather than to concentrate on political intrigues and the romantic dramatisation of leading figures which had been practised by so many other historians. Without this study of economic causes, he remarks justly, "the history of the period remains incomplete and in many points incomprehensible". He himself describes thus the evolution of his book:

"It was with the intention of throwing some light upon these economic problems that I began in 1886 to make separate studies of the earliest revolutionary stirrings among the peasants; the peasant risings of 1789; the struggles for and against the feudal laws; the real causes of the movement of May 31, and so on. . . .

"Believing that it would not be easy for the reader to appreciate the bearing of separate studies of this kind without a general view of the whole development of the Revolution understood in the light of these studies, I soon found it necessary to write a more or less consecutive account of the chief events of the Revolution. In this [340] account I have not dwelt upon the dramatic side of the episodes of these disturbed years, which have been so often described, but I have made it my chief object to utilise modern research so as to reveal the intimate connection and interdependence of the various events which combined to produce the climax of the eighteenth-century's epic."

But with the spirit of the true historian, Kropotkin was not concerned merely with the period he discussed. He saw it as a climax in a long past and future development, and sought to conjure up a picture not only of the events which were his immediate subject, but also of "the mighty currents of thought and action that came into conflict during the French Revolution -- currents so intimately blended with the very essence of human nature that they must inevitably reappear in the historic events of the future".

The result is a very skilful and absorbing book, with great momentum, an active and readable style, and a capable use of a mass of details regarding the more obscure but no less important aspects of the French Revolution. Beginning with the causes of economic discontent which actually precipitated the revolution and realised the hopes of the pre-revolutionary thinkers, it preserves a continuous and well-sustained narrative through the complex series of incidents which constituted the stormy history of the revolution, down to the final triumph of reaction on the 9th Thermidor, placing emphasis always on the basic struggle of the people to gain satisfaction for their economic needs and social demands, yet not neglecting the superimposed pattern of political manoeuvring which frustrated their expectations, and here and there giving the most vivid representations in miniature of revolutionary incidents and personalities. All the theories on the nature, course and needs of revolutions which Kropotkin put forward in his active days of agitation here take their place in the historical pattern, and are supported by convincing evidence and analysis. He illustrates the interaction of economic distress and intellectual discontent; the generation of the revolution in the heart of the people and its sweeping progress beyond the will of the leaders it threw up; the continual tendency of the revolutionary government to retard progress, to cling to power in the face of popular pressure, and finally, by revealing a fundamental cleavage in [34I] the revolutionary ranks, to open the way for the counter-revolution. And, lastly, there runs as an undercurrent through his narrative the insistent cry of the masses for bread, and he shows how great a part was played in the eventual disaster by the failure of the revolutionaries to fulfil this basic demand.

Yet, although the revolution failed to achieve its great object of "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity", it did, according to Kropotkin, accomplish two great tasks which put France in the forefront of the European social movement -- the abolition of absolutism and that of serfdom. On these achievements, and on the "communist" ideas which he regarded as having been originated by the French Revolution, he based that inordinate admiration for Republican France which later amounted to a kind of patriotism. Despite this one fault of excessive partiality, The Great French Revolution remains an excellent historical study and a fine vindication, in the field of practical example, of the theoretical ideas concerning the nature and needs of revolutions which Kropotkin had put forward in his two earliest books, Paroles d'un Revolte and The Conquest of Bread.