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Centennial Tribute to Kropotkin

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Dr. Authur E Briggs
Author: The Concept of Personality

Men famous in their time often pass to obscurity after death.

Kropotkin distinguished in his lifetime may be one of those with a better claim for distinction from posterity. I believe we can discover in him more that is worthy for perpetuation than his disciples knew. For followers usually seize upon some ephemeral portion of a leader's work and hold tenaciously to that which had better be forgotten as disparaging to his greater achievements.

Kropotkin like every man carried contradictory elements in his soul. We have to take account of the opposition within him of evolutionist and revolutionist, of the mild mannered and kindly man who nevertheless countenanced or advocated violence, of the natural scientist who left his studies for social propagandism, of the communist who could not endure the Great Society of compulsion, of the socialist who was yet a professed anarchist, of one who despised Marx and all his breed of social absolutists and yet endured the Russian Marxist Revolution, of the ex-patriate who felt the necessity to die in his native land notwithstanding it was alien to his spiritual home. This is the Kropotkin a disciple who counts all of equal merit is loth to recognize, but who can be understood only in the light of his apparent contradictions which yet so mingled in him as to create that loveable and striking character to which all who knew him paid tribute.

I cannot here give attention to all of the great variety in the man. I am concerned mainly with his ideas, rather than to analyze his character. As Kropotkin was more a thinking man and somewhat less a man of action, we will take note in three points of some of his outstanding ideas, such as his social evolutionism, his ethical conception of a better humanity, and his program for social reconstruction.

The sanity of the man is notably shown in his reaction against the current evolutionism of his time. He was indeed one of those rising young men of science to whom Darwin looked forward for justification of his theory of evolution against the old detractors of his own generation. It is admirable when one finds a convert to a doctrine also a searching critic of it. That was what Kropotkin demanded as an ethical obligation of every adherent to any cause. And true to his own principles and not as a blind follower of evolutionism, to the conception of evolution as resultant of the struggle for existence he opposed his own view of mutual aid as also a factor of evolution. He knew furthermore that "the evolution of mankind has not had the charac-ter of one unbroken series." Nevertheless he shared the general misconception of his time that communism was the prevalent economic order of the primitive world. And he believed that private property in land was not found in primitive society. The truth is, that as in our capitalist society, so too among savages and barbarians there were both private and common property in land as in everything else.

Kropotkin rightly struck at another erroneous assumption of evolutionists, namely, that any change must come slowly. When things are out of joint it is imperative that change be made quickly, or else revolution with all its disastrous consequences will force change vio-lently and destructively. For Kropotkin had


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