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Prince Peter (Pyotr) Alexeyevich Kropotkin (Russian: Пётр Алексе́евич Кропо́ткин) (December 9, 1842–February 8, 1921) was one of Russia's foremost anarchists and one of the first advocates of anarchist communism: the model of society he advocated for most of his life was that of a communalist society free from central government. Because of his title of prince and his prominence as an anarchist in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, he was known by some as "the Anarchist Prince". Some contemporaries saw him as leading a near perfect life. Oscar Wilde called him "the new Christ coming out of Russia." He left behind many books, pamphlets and articles, the most prominent being his works The Conquest of Bread and Fields, Factories and Workshops, and his principal scientific offering, Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution. He was also a contributor to the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica.

BiographyEdit

Peter (or Pyotr) Kropotkin was born in Moscow. His father, Prince Alexei Petrovich Kropotkin, owned nearly 1200 "souls" (male serfs) in three different provinces, and large tracts of land. Prince Kropotkin traced his male line to the legendary prince Rurik; his mother, Yekaterina Nikolaevna Sulima, was the daughter of a general in the Russian army.

In 1857, at the age of fifteen, Kropotkin entered the Corps of Pages at St. Petersburg. Only a hundred and fifty boys — mostly children of the nobility belonging to the court — were educated in this privileged corps, which combined the character of a military school endowed with special rights and of a Court institution attached to the imperial household. He remained there until 1862, reading widely on his own account, and giving special attention to the works of the French encyclopaedists and to French history. Before he left Moscow, Prince Kropotkin had developed an interest in the condition of the Russian peasantry, and this interest increased as he grew older. The years 1857-1861 witnessed a rich growth in the intellectual forces of Russia, and Kropotkin came under the influence of the new Liberal-revolutionary literature, which indeed largely expressed his own aspirations.

In 1862 he was promoted from the Corps of Pages to the army. The members of the corps had the prescriptive right of choosing the regiment to which they would be attached. Kropotkin had never wished for a military career, but, as he did not have the means to enter St. Petersburg University, he elected to join a Siberian Cossack regiment in the recently annexed Amur district, where there were prospects of administrative work. For some time he was aide de camp to the governor of Transbaikalia at Chita, subsequently being appointed attaché for Cossack affairs to the governor-general of East Siberia at Irkutsk.

Opportunities for administrative work, however, were scarce, and in 1864 Kropotkin accepted charge of a geographical survey expedition, crossing North Manchuria from Transbaikalia to the Amur, and shortly afterwards was attached to another expedition which proceeded up the Sungari River into the heart of Manchuria. Both these expeditions yielded most valuable geographical results. The impossibility of obtaining any real administrative reforms in Siberia now induced Kropotkin to devote himself almost entirely to scientific exploration, in which he continued to be highly successful.

He quit the army in 1867 and returned to St. Petersburg, where he entered the university, becoming at the same time secretary to the geography section of the Russian Geographical Society. In 1873 he published an important contribution to science, a map and paper in which he proved that the existing maps of Asia entirely misrepresented the physical formation of the country, the main structural lines being in fact from south-west to north-east, not from north to south, or from east to west as had been previously supposed.

In 1871 he explored the glacial deposits of Finland and Sweden for the Russian Geographical Society, and while engaged in this work was offered the secretaryship of that society. But by this time he had determined that it was his duty not to work at fresh discoveries but to aid in diffusing existing knowledge among the people at large, and he accordingly refused the offer, and returned to St. Petersburg, where he joined the revolutionary party.

He visited Switzerland in 1872 and became a member of the International Workingmen's Association at Geneva. The socialism of this body was not to his taste and after studying the programme of the more radical Jura federation at Neuchâtel and spending some time in the company of the leading members, he definitely adopted the creed of anarchism. On returning to Russia, he took an active part in spreading revolutionary propaganda through the nihilist-led Circle of Tchaikovsky.

In 1873 he was arrested and imprisoned, but escaped in 1876 and went to England, moving after a short stay to Switzerland, where he joined the Jura Federation. In 1877 he went to Paris, where he helped to start the socialist movement, returning to Switzerland in 1878, where he edited for the Jura Federation a revolutionary newspaper, Le Révolté, subsequently also publishing various revolutionary pamphlets.

In 1881, shortly after the assassination of the Tsar Alexander II, Kropotkin was expelled from Switzerland by the Swiss government, and after a short stay at Thonon (Savoy) went to London, where he remained for nearly a year, returning to Thonon towards the end of 1882. Shortly afterwards he was arrested by the French government, and, after a trial at Lyon, sentenced by a police-court magistrate (under a special law passed on the fall of the Paris Commune) to five years' imprisonment, on the ground that he had belonged to the IWA (1883). In 1886 however, as the result of repeated agitation on his behalf in the French Chamber, he was released, and settled near London.

In 1902 Kropotkin published the book Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution, which provided an alternative view on animal and human survival, beyond the claims of 'Survival of the Fittest' proffered at the time by some "social Darwinists", such as T.H. Huxley. (See Murray Bookchin and social ecology, and also sociobiology).

In the animal world we have seen that the vast majority of species live in societies, and that they find in association the best arms for the struggle for life: understood, of course, in its wide Darwinian sense -- not as a struggle for the sheer means of existence, but as a struggle against all natural conditions unfavourable to the species. The animal species, in which individual struggle has been reduced to its narrowest limits, and the practice of mutual aid has attained the greatest development, are invariably the most numerous, the most prosperous, and the most open to further progress. The mutual protection which is obtained in this case, the possibility of attaining old age and of accumulating experience, the higher intellectual development, and the further growth of sociable habits, secure the maintenance of the species, its extension, and its further progressive evolution. The unsociable species, on the contrary, are doomed to decay. – Peter Kropotkin, Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution (1902), Conclusion.

Kropotkin's authority as a writer on Russia is generally acknowledged, and he contributed to many articles in the Encyclopædia Britannica, including an entry on anarchism in the 1911 edition (see external links, below). Most of the other articles (about 90) are to do with various aspects of Russian geography and regions.

Kropotkin returned to Russia after the February Revolution and was offered the ministry of education in the provisional government, a post he rejected. His enthusiasm turned to disappointment when the Bolsheviks seized power. "This buries the revolution," he said. He thought that the Bolsheviks had shown how the revolution was not to be made - by authoritarian rather than libertarian methods.

A fact unknown to many regards Kropotkin's beard, which was grown initially to act as a disguise when he became a fugitive in 1876. His trademark facial hair went on to become one the most defining features of Kropotkin, aside from his ideological beliefs. Some historians have indeed argued that the beard may not have been his own at all.

He died on February 8, 1921 in the city of Dmitrov, Moscow province and was buried at the Novodevichy Cemetery, Moscow.

Timeline of Kropotkin's lifeEdit

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

QuotationsEdit

  • "Either the State for ever, crushing individual and local life, taking over in all fields of human activity, bringing with it its wars and its domestic struggles for power, its palace revolutions which only replace one tyrant by another, and inevitably at the end of this development there is ... death! Or the destruction of States, and new life starting again in thousands of centers on the principle of the lively initiative of the individual and groups and that of free agreement. The choice lies with you!"
  • "All things for all men, since all men have need of them, since all men worked to produce them in the measure of their strength, and since it is not possible to evaluate everyone's part in the production of the world's wealth... All is for all!"
  • " But what right had I to these highest joys, when all around me was nothing but misery and struggle for a moldy bit 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 mouths of those who grew the wheat and had not bread enough for their children?"
  • "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 be worth the trouble of defending; the poor of yesterday must not be poor tomorrow."
  • " Lenin is not comparable to any revolutionary figure in history. Revolutionaries have had ideals. Lenin has none."
  • " Vladimir Ilyich [Lenin], your concrete actions are completely unworthy of the ideas you pretend to hold."
  • " Sociability is as much a law of nature as mutual struggle... mutual aid is as much a law of animal life as mutual struggle."
  • " The two great movements of our century --towards Liberty of the individual and social co-operation of the whole community--are summed up in Anarchist-Communism."
  • "Unless Socialists are prepared openly and avowedly to profess that the satisfaction of the needs of each individual must be their very first aim; unless they have prepared public opinion to establish itself firmly at this standpoint, the people in their next attempt to free themselves will once more suffer a defeat.”

TriviaEdit

  • Dennis Danvers' Science-Fiction novel "The Watch" is centred around a resurrected Peter Kropotkin living in Richmond, Virginia in the year 1999.
  • On February 16, 2007, Time Magazine's Justin Fox wrote a piece in his column "The Curious Capitalist" which looks at Kropotkin's theories of Mutual Aid in relation to modern business practices.