Peter Kropotkin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Timeline

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

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