Modern Science and Anarchism

Peter Kropotkin

This text was taken from my copy translated from the Russian original by David A. Modell and published by The Social Science Club of Philadelphia in 1903.


     It is obvious that, since Anarchism differs so widely in its method of investigation and in its fundamental principles, alike from the academical sociologists and from its social-democratic fraternity, it must of necessity differ from them all in its means of action.

     Understanding Law, Right, and the State as we do, we cannot see any guarantee of progress, still less of a social revolution, in the submission of the Individual to the State. We are therefore no longer able to say, as do the superficial interpreters of social phenomena, that modern Capitalism has come into being through "the anarchy of exploitation," through "the theory of non-interference," which we are told the States have carried out by practicing the formula of "let them do as they like" (laissez faire, laissez passer). We know that this is not true. While giving the capitalist any degree of free scope to amass his wealth at the expense of the helpless laborers, the government has NOWHERE and NEVER during the whole nineteenth century afforded the laborers the opportunity "to do as they pleased." The terrible revolutionary, that is, Jacobinist, convention legislated: "For strikes, for forming a State within the State--death!" In 1813 people were hanged in England for going out on strike, and in 1831 they were deported to Australia for forming the Great Trades' Union (Union of all Trades) of Robert Owen; in the sixties people were still condemned to hard labor for participating in strikes, and even now, in 1902, trade unions are prosecuted for damages amounting to half a million dollars for picketing--for having dissuaded laborers from working in times of strike. What is one to say, then, of France, Belgium, Switzerland (remember the massacre at Airolo!), and especially of Germany and Russia? It is needless, also, to tell how, by means of taxes, the State brings laborers to the verge of poverty which puts them body and soul in the power of the factory boss; how the communal lands have been robbed from the people, and are still robbed from them in England by means of the Enclosure Acts. Or, must we remind the reader how, even at the present moment, all the States, without exception, are creating directly (what is the use of talking of "the original accumulation" when it is continued at the present time!) all kinds of monopolies--in railroads, tramways, telephones, gasworks, waterworks, electric works, schools, etc., etc. In short, the system of non-interference--the laissez faire--has never been applied for one single hour by any government. And therefore, if it is permissible for middle-class economists to affirm that the system of "non-interference" is practiced (since they endeavor to prove that poverty is a law of nature), it is simply shameful that socialists should speak thus to the workers. Freedom to oppose exploitation has so far never and nowhere existed. Everywhere it had to be taken by force, step by step, at the cost of countless sacrifices. "Non-interference," and more than non- interference--direct support; help and protection--existed only in the interests of the exploiters. Nor could it be overwise. The mission of the Church has been to hold the people in intellectual slavery; the mission of the State was to hold them, half starved, in economic slavery.

     Knowing this, we cannot see a guarantee of progress in a still greater submission of all to the State. We seek progress in the fullest emancipation of the Individual from the authority of the State; in the greatest development of individual initiative and in the limitation of all the governmental functions, but surely not in the extension thereof. The march forward in political institutions appears to us to consist in abolishing, in the first place, the State authority which has fixed itself upon society (especially since the sixteenth century), and which now tries to extend its functions more and more; and, in the second place, in allowing the broadest possible development for the principle of free agreement, and in acknowledging the independence of all possible associations formed for definite ends, embracing in their federations the whole of society. The life of society itself we understand, not as something complete and rigid, but as something never perfect--something ever striving for new forms, and ever changing these forms in accordance with the needs of the time. This is what life is in Nature.

     Such a conception of human progress and of what we think desirable in the future (what, in our opinion, can increase the sum of happiness) leads us inevitably to our own special tactics in the struggle. It induces us to strive for the greatest possible development of personal initiative in every individual and group, and to secure unity of action, not through discipline, but through the unity of aims and the mutual confidence which never fail to develop when a area number of persons have consciously embraced some common idea. This tendency manifest; itself in all the tactics and in all the internal life of every Anarchist group, and so far we have never had the opportunity of seeing these tactics fail.

     Then, we assert and endeavor to prove that it devolves upon every new economic form of social life to develop its own new form of political relations. It has been so in the past, and so it undoubtedly will be in the future. New forms are already germinating all round.

     Feudal right and autocracy, or, at least, the almost unlimited power of a tsar or a king, have moved hand in hand in history. They depended on each other in this development. Exactly in the same way the rule of the capitalists has evolved its own characteristic political order-- representative government--both in strictly centralized monarchies and in republics.

     Socialism, whatever may be the form in which it will appear, and in whatever degree it may approach to its unavoidable goal--Communism,--will also have to choose its own form of political structure. Of the old form it cannot make use, no more than it could avail itself of the hierarchy of the Church or of autocracy. The State bureaucracy and centralization are as irreconcilable with Socialism as was autocracy with capitalist rule. One way or another, Socialism must become more popular, more communalistic, and less dependent upon indirect government through elected representatives. It must become more self- governing. Besides, when we closely observe the modern life of France, Spain England, and the United States, we notice in these countries the evident tendency to form into groups of entirely independent communes, towns and villages, which would combine by means of free federation, in order to satisfy innumerable needs and attain certain immediate ends. Of course, neither the Russian Minister Witte nor the German William II, nor even the Jacobinists who to-day rule Switzerland, are making for this goal. All these work upon the old model for capitalist and governmental centralization in the hands of the State; but the above-mentioned dismemberment of the State, both territorial and functional, is undoubtedly aimed at by the progressive part of West European society and of the American people. In actual life this tendency manifests itself in thousands of attempts at organization outside the State, fully independent of it; as well as in attempts to take hold of various functions which had been previously usurped by the State and which,of course, it has never properly performed. And then, as a great social phenomenon of universal import, this tendency found expression in the Paris Commune of 1871 and in a whole series of similar uprisings in France and Spain; while in the domain of thought--of ideas spreading through society--this view has already acquired the force of an extremely important factor of future history. The future revolutions in France and in Spain will be communalist--not centralist.

     On the strength of all this, we are convinced that to work in favor of a centralized State-capitalism and to see in it a desideratum, means to work against the tendency of progress already manifest. We see in such work as this a gross misunderstanding of the historic mission of Socialism itself--a great historical mistake, and we make war upon it. To assure the laborers that they will be able to establish Socialism, or even to take the first steps on the road to Socialism, by retaining the entire government machinery, and changing only the persons who manage it; not to promote, but even to retard the day on which the working people's minds shall be bent upon discovering their own, new forms of political life,--this is in our eyes a colossal historical blunder which borders upon crime.

    Finally, since we represent a revolutionary party, we try to study the history of the origin and development of past revolutions. We endeavor, first of all, to free the histories of revolutions written up till now from the partisan, and for the most part false, governmental coloring that has been given them. In the histories hitherto written we do not yet see the people; nor do we see how revolutions began. The stereotyped phrases about the desperate condition of people previous to revolutions, fail to explain whence, amid this desperation, came the hope of something better--whence came the revolutionary spirit. And therefore, after reading these histories, we put them aside, and, going back to first sources, try to learn from them what caused the people to rise and what was its part in revolutions.

    Thus, we understand the Great French Revolution not at all as it is pictured by Louis Blanc, who presents it chiefly as a great political movement directed by the Jacobin Club. We see in it, first of all, a chaotic popular movement, chiefly of the peasant folk ("Every village had its Robespierre," as the Abbe Gregoire, who knew the people's revolt, remarked to the historian Schlosser). This movement aimed chiefly at the destruction of every vestige of feudal rights and of the redemptions that had been imposed for the abolition of some of them, as well as at the recovery of the lands which had been seized from the village communes by vultures of various kinds. And in so far the peasant movement was successful. Then, upon this foundation of revolutionary tumult, of increased pulsation of life, and of disorganization of all the powers of the State, we find, on the one hand, developing amongst the town laborers a tendency towards a vaguely understood socialist equality; and, on the other hand, the middle classes working hard, and successfully, in order to establish their own authority upon the ruins of that of royalty and nobility. To this end the middle classes fought stubbornly and desperately that they might create a powerful, all inclusive, centralized government, which would preserve and assure to them their right of property (gained partly by plunder before and during the Revolution) and afford them the full opportunity of exploiting the poor without any legal restrictions. This power, this right to exploit, the middle classes really obtained; and in the State centralization which was created by the revolutionary Jacobinists, Napoleon found an excellent soil for establishing his empire. From this centralized authority, which kills all local life, France is suffering even to this very day, and the first attempt to throw off its yoke--an attempt which opened a new era in history--was made by the proletariat of Paris only in 1871.

     Without entering here upon an analysis of other revolutionary movements, it is sufficient to say that we understand the coming social revolution, not at all as a Jacobinist dictatorship--not at all as a reform of the social institutions by means of laws issued by a Convention or a Senate or a Dictator. Such revolutions have never occurred, and a movement which should take this form would be doomed to inevitable death. We understand the revolution as a widespread popular movement, during which, in every town and village within the region of the revolt, the masses will have to take upon themselves the task of rebuilding society--will have to take up themselves the work of construction upon communistic bases, without awaiting any orders and directions from above; that is, first of all, they will have to organize, one way or another, the means of supplying food to everyone and of providing dwellings for all, and then produce whatever will be found necessary for feeding, clothing, and sheltering everybody.

     As to the representative government, whether self-appointed or elected--be it "the dictatorship of the proletariat," as they said in the forties in France and are still saying in Germany, or an elected "temporary government," or, again, a Jacobinist "convention,"--we place in it no hopes whatever. Not because we personally do not like it, but because nowhere and never in history do we find that people, carried into government by a revolutionary wave, have proved equal to the occasion; always and everywhere they have fallen below the revolutionary requirements of the moment; always and everywhere they became an obstacle to the revolution. We place no hope in this representation because, in the work of rebuiding society upon new communist principles, separate individuals, however wise and devoted to the cause, are and must be powerless. They can only find a legal expression for such a destruction as is already being accomplished--at most they can but widen and extend that destruction so as to suggest it to regions which have not yet begun it. But that is all. The destruction must be wrought from below in every portion of the territory; otherwise it will not be done. To impose it by law is impossible, as, indeed, the revolt of the Vendée has proved. As for any new bases of life which are only growing as yet,--no government can ever find an expression for them before they become defined by the constructive activity of the masses themselves, at thousands of points at once.

     Looking upon the problems of the revolution in this light, Anarchism, obviously, cannot take a sympathetic attitude toward the programme which aims at "the conquest of power in present society"--la conquête des pouvoirs as it is expressed in France. We know that by peaceful, parliamentary means, in the present State such a conquest as this is impossible. In proportion as the socialists become a power in the present bourgeois society and State, their Socialism must die out; otherwise the middle classes, which are much more powerful both intellectually and numerically than is admitted in the socialist press, will not recognize them as their rulers. And we know also that, were a revolution to give France or England or Germany a socialist government, the respective government would be absolutely powerless without the activity of the people themselves, and that, necessarily, it would soon begin to act fatally as a bridle upon the revolution.

    Finally, our studies of the preparatory stages of all revolutions bring us to the conclusion that not a single revolution has originated in parliaments or in any other representative assembly. All began with the people. And no revolution has appeared in full armor--born, like Minerva out of the head of Jupiter, in a day. They all had their periods of incubation, during which the masses were very slowly becoming imbued with the revolutionary spirit, grew bolder, commenced to hope, and step by step emerged from their former indifference and resignation. And the awakening of the revolutionary spirit always took place in such a manner that, at first, single individuals, deeply moved by the existing state of things, protested against it, one by one. Many perished--"uselessly," the arm-chair critic would say; but the indifference of society was shaken by these progenitors. The dullest and most narrow-minded people were compelled to reflect,--Why should men, young, sincere, and full of strength, sacrifice their lives in this way? It was impossible to remain indifferent--it was necessary to take a stand, for or against: thought was awakening. Then, little by little, small groups came to be imbued with the same spirit of revolt; they also rebelled--sometimes in the hope of local success--in strikes or in small revolts against some official whom they disliked, or in order to get food for their hungry children, but frequently also without any hope of success: simply because the conditions grew unbearable. Not one, or two, or tens, but hundreds of similar revolts have preceded and must precede every revolution. Without these no revolution was ever wrought; not a single concession was ever made by the ruling classes. Even the famous "peaceful" abolition of serfdom in Russia, of which Tolstoy often speaks as of a peaceful conquest, was forced upon the government by a series of peasant uprisings, beginning with the early fifties (perpaps as an echo of the European revolution of 1848), spreading from year to year, and gaining in importance so as to attain proportions hitherto unknown, until 1857. Alexander Herzen's words, "Better to abolish serfdom from above than to wait until the abolition comes from below,"--repeated by Alexder II before the serf-owners of Moscow--were not mere phrases, but answered to the real state of affairs. This was all the more true as to the eve of every revolution. Hundreds of partial revolts preceded every one of them. And it maybe stated as a general rule that the character of every revolution is determined by the character and the aim of the uprisings by which it is preceded.

     To wait, therefore, for a social revolution to come as a birthday present, without a whole series of protests on the part of the individual conscience, and without hundreds of preliminary revolts, by which the very nature of the revolution is determined, is, to say the least, absurd. But to assure the working people that they will gain all the benefits of a socialist revolution by confining themselves to electoral agitation, and to attack vehemently every act of individual revolt and all minor preliminary mass-revolts--even when they appear among nations historically far more revolutionary than the Germans--means to become as great an obstacle to the development of the revolutionary spirit and to all progress as was and is the Christian Church.

    Whithout entering into further discussion of the principles of Anarchism and the Anarchist programme of action, enough has been said, I think, to show the place of Anarchism among the modern sociological sciences.

     Anarchism is an attempt to apply to the study of the human institutions the generalizations gained by means of the natural-scientific inductive method; and an attempt to foresee the future steps of mankind on the road to liberty, equality, and fraternity, with a view to realizing the greatest sum of happiness for every unit of human society.

     It is the inevitable result of that natural-scientific, intellectual movement which began at the close of the eighteenth century, was hampered for half a century by the reaction that set in throughout Europe after the French Revolution, and has been appearing again in full vigor ever since the end of the fifties. Its roots lie in the natural-scientific philosophy of the century mentioned. Its complete scientific basis, however, it could receive only after that awakening of naturalism which, about forty years ago, brought into being the natural-scientific study of human social institutions.

     In Anarchism there is no room for those pseudo-scientific laws with which the German metaphysicians of the twenties and thirties had to consent themselves. Anarchism does not recognize any method other than the natural-scientific. This method it applies to all the so-called humanitarian sciences, and, availing itself of this method as well as of all researches which have recently been called forth by it, Anarchism endeavors to reconstruct all the sciences dealing with man, and to revise every current idea of right, justice, etc., on the bases which have served for the revision of all natural sciences. Its object is to form a scientific concept of the universe embracing the whole of Nature and including Man.

     This world-concept determines the position Anarchism has taken in practical life. In the struggle between the Individual and the State, Anarchism, like its predecessors of the eighteenth century, takes the side of the Individual as against the State, of Society as against the Authority which oppresses it. And, availing itself of the historical data collected by modern science, it has shown that the State--whose sphere of authority there is now a tendency among its admirers to increase, and a tendency to limit in actual life--is, in reality, a superstructure,--as harmful as it is unnecessary, and, for us Europeans, of a comparatively recent origin; a superstructure in the interests of Capitalism--agrarian, industrial, and financial--which in ancient history caused the decay (relatively speaking) of poIitically-free Rome and Greece, and which caused the death of all other despotic centers of civilization of the East and of Egypt. The power which was created for the purpose of welding together the interests of the landlord, the judge, the warrior, and the priest, and has been opposed throughout history to every attempt of mankind to create for themselves a more assured and freer mode of life,--this power cannot become an instrument for emancipation, any more than Cæsarism (Imperialism) or the Church can become the instrument for a social revolution.

     In the economic field, Anarchism has come to the conclusion that the root of modern evil lies, not in the fact that the capitalist appropriates the profits or the surplus-value, but in the very possibility of these profits, which accrue only because millions of people have literally nothing to subsist upon without selling their labor-power at a price which makes profits and the creation of "surplus values" possible. Anarchism understands, therefore, that in political economy attention must be directed first of all to so-called "consumption," and that the first concern of the revolution must be to reorganize that so as to provide food, clothing and shelter for all. "Production," on the other hand, must be so adapted as to satisfy this primary, fundamental need of society. Therefore, Anarchism cannot see in the next coming revolution a mere exchange of monetary symbols for labor-checks, or an exchange of present Capitalism for State-capitalism. It sees in it the first step on the road to No-government Communism.

     Whether or not Anarchism is right in its conclusions, will be shown by a scientific criticism of its bases and by the practical life of the future. But in one thing it is absolutely right: in that it has included the study of social institutions in the sphere of natural-scientific investigations; has forever parted company with metaphysics; and makes use of the method by which modern natural science and modern material philosophy were developed. Owing to this, the very mistakes which Anarchism may have made in its researches can be detected the more readily. But its conclusions can be verified only by the same natural-scientific, inductive-deductive method by which every science and every scientific concept of the universe is created.


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