THE revolutionary movement against the Russian Czars during its hundred years of struggle aroused the idealism of the youth in the cities. Thousands of young men and women in the professional classes risked their positions, their chances for careers and their family ties to engage in revolutionary and educational propaganda among the peasants and workers and later in secret conspiracies against the government. Hundreds of them were hanged or exiled. Their agitation continued unceasingly for years under a persecution unmatched in modern history. The revolution finally triumphed in the overthrow of the Czar and the seizure of power and property by the workers and peasants.
Kropotkin grew up in the midst of this struggle,--in the years of intense agitation for the abolition of serfdom and for a constitutional government. He was born a prince of the old nobility of Moscow, was trained as a page in the Emperor's court, and at twenty became an officer in the army. The discovery that he was engaged in revolutionary activities in St. Petersburg while he was presumably devoting his life to scientific geography, caused a sensation. He was arrested and held in prison without trial. He became at once one of the most hated and most beloved representatives of the revolutionary cause. He was one of the very few of the nobility to go over to the revolution, and his family connections and training at the court made him a conspicuous figure. After making a dramatic escape in broad daylight from his fortress prison in St. Petersburg after a year's confinement, he found refuge in England. For forty two years he lived virtually in exile, chiefly in England, engaged in scientific research and anarchist propaganda. He returned to Russia in 1917 after the Kerensky revolution,--an old man of seventy five.
But he could feel no enthusiasm for a revolution which set up a new governing class, particularly when followed by the dictatorship of a political party. Yet he looked upon it with far seeing eyes. He regarded the revolution as a "natural phenomenon independent of the human will, similar to a typhoon," and waited for it to spend its force in order to begin a real reconstruction through the free cooperation of peasants' and workers' associations.
He died four years later in his little cottage in the country a few miles from Moscow,--continuing to the end his writing on social problems. His family and friends refused the State funeral offered by the government as a gesture contrary to his principles. The Soviet Government turned over to his friends the house in the old nobles' quarter where he was born, to be used as a museum for his books and papers and belongings, and renamed one of the principal streets of Moscow for him,--as a tribute to his services to the revolutionary cause in Russia.
But it is neither as a scientist nor as a Russian revolutionist that Kropotkin is most significant to the world at large. It is rather as a revolutionary anarchist, who put into anarchism the methods of science. He was in fact a scientist in two wholly unrelated fields,--geography and revolutionary social ethics,--for his anarchism was essentially applied ethics. He was one of the leading authorities of his time both in geodetic mathematics and Siberian geography. He was the first man to formulate a scientific basis for the principle of anarchism,--in its opposition to authority in all forms and in its advocacy of complete social reorganization on the basis of the free cooperation of independent associations. He brought to social science a wealth of training in the natural sciences. Unlike most scientists he states his observations and conclusions so simply that his works were published in popular book and pamphlet form in almost all languages. Their wide appeal was due also to his passion for the education of the masses in revolutionary ideas, feeling that once they understood their powers and mission, they would unite to destroy the State, monopoly and private property.
Mutual aid, sympathy, solidarity, individual liberty through free cooperation as the basis of all social life--these are the positive ideas at the root of Kropotkin's teachings. Abolition of the State, of authority in all forms, of monopoly and class rule, are their negative forms. Coupled with them was a belief,--shared by many revolutionists of all schools,--in an approaching social revolution, a universal seizure of property by the workers and peasants, which would end exploitation and class rule and usher in free cooperation and individual liberty.
He shared with socialists their criticism of capitalism, and in large part their conception that the forms of the economic life of a people determine their social institutions--law, government, religion, and marriage. But he disagreed with them in the use of political methods as a means of achieving power and in their conception of a workers' State. Anarchist communism, he described, as the "no government system of socialism." But anarchism as a principle of freedom carried him outside the economic and political struggle into all social relations,--marriage, education, the treatment of crime, the function of law, the basis of morality.
Kropotkin's social outlook was colored by his early contacts with the Russian peasantry. When he thought of the masses, he unconsciously pictured to himself peasants oppressed by landlords and Czars, quite capable of handling their own affairs when a revolutionary upheaval once gave them freedom. His outlook on the working class was also colored by his limited contacts. He was not close to the working class struggle as a whole. His only intimate connections were with the Jura Federation in Switzerland, the Russian Jewish workers in London and to a lesser degree with the anarchist workers in Paris. His bitter hostility to Marxian socialism cut him off from the German workers' movement. He knew little of the practical problems of leadership, or of the psychology of action among the workers. And, like many intellectuals, he idealized their capacities.
Kropotkin, unlike many others who called themselves anarchists, notably the Tolstoians, was not opposed to the use of violence. He did not condemn deeds of violence, particularly the assassination of tyrants, but considered them useful acts in the struggle toward liberation. Civil war he regardedas inevitable in the conflict of classes, though he wished it to be limited to the "smallest number of victims and a minimum of mutual embitterment." Even international wars he regarded as sometimes significant of conflict between advanced and reactionary forces. This attitude explains how he could champion the Allied cause in the World War, for he feared the triumph of German militarism would be fatal to the progress of the revolutionary forces which he believed were far more advanced in the Allied countries. His profound love for France, and a strong sentimental attachment to Russia, probably influenced this attitude.
Of the non-resistant anarchism of Tolstoi he wrote, "I am in sympathy with most of Tolstoi's work, though there are many of his ideas with which I absolutely disagree,--his asceticism, for instance, and his doctrine of non resistance. It seems to me, too, that he has bound himself, without reason or judgment, to the letter of the New Testament." He was also scornful of Tolstoi's idea that the propertied classes could be persuaded to give up their prerogatives without a violent struggle.
Kropotkin objected to being called a "philosophical anarchist" because he said he learned anarchism not from philosophy but from the people. And like many other anarchists he objected to the implication that it was only a philosophy, not a program of action, not a movement rooted in the struggle of the masses. "Philosophical" sounded aloof, too respectable, too pacific. It smacked of books and the study.
To concepts of anarchism ocher than "anarchist communism,"-the school founded by Michael Bakunin,--he was inhospitable. The anarchist schools of thought have only one point in common,--the abolition of the State as an institution of compulsion,--and all sects emphasize their points of difference. He regarded "individualist anarchism" of the school of Benjamin Tucker in America and Max Stirner in Germany, as hopelessly conservative, committed only to winning personal liberty without a revolutionary change in the economic system. He said of individualism in general, so often conceived as the leading principle of anarchism: "Individualism, narrowly egotistic, is incapable of inspiring anybody. There is nothing great or gripping in it. Individuality can attain its supreme development only in the highest common social effort." He called the individualism of Nietzsche "spurious," remarking that it could exist "only under a condition of oppression for the masses" and in fact destroyed individuality "in the oppressor himself as well as in the oppressed masses." Ibsen he regarded as the only writer who had achieved a conception of true individualism, but "had not succeeded in expressing it in a way to make it clearly understood." The French anarchist thinker, Pierre Proudhon, inspirer of the "mutualist school" of revolutionary economic changes through the reorganization of banking and money, he considered an impractical dreamer.
Kropotkin did not carry his differences of opinion into the open, except in his relentless opposition to all forms of authoritarianism, which meant a constant state of warfare with authoritarian socialism as represented by the followers of Marx. Besides his opposition to him on principle he had a strong personal dislike for Marx,--who he never met,--largely due to Marx's treatment of Bakunin. Marx, according to common report, had helped spread false rumor that Bakunin had been in the employ of the Russian secret service.
Yet when these two once met at the home of George Sand, Marx greeted Bakunin effusively. Kropotkin could not tolerate what he regarded as unpardonable hypocrisy. This feeling was intensified by the discovery that parts of the Communist Manifesto had been lifted almost word for word from a work by Considerant. Kropotkin took almost a boyish delight in scoring anything on Marx, and, furthermore, he had contempt for him as a politician.
But aside from a personal feeling which was doubtless the result of his hostility to authoritarian socialism, his differences with Marx on other fundamental points were great. Although he was a materialist, accepting in large part the socialist economic interpretation of history, he did not regard economic forces so overwhelming a factor in the class struggle. All through his work the power of ideas is stressed,--factor accepted by the Marxians as important but secondary, and originating in the struggle of classes. That struggle itself seemed to Kropotkin less influential in revolutionary progress than arousing the "people" to revolutionary thought and feeling. Such a concept was doubtless based on his early outlook in Russia, where the masses of the peasants stood opposed to a small ruling class. The socialist conception was a sharper, clearer picture of class lines and interests in the industrial west. Yet in his Great French Revolution Kropotkin embodies an interpretation that is shared by the whole socialist communist school. Indeed, the Soviet Government offered him large returns for the right to use it as a text book in Russian schools--an offer which Kropotkin characteristically refused because it came from a government.
In his social thinking Kropotkin tended to develop his facts from his theories. He described his method as "inductive- deductive." In his geographical scientific work he got his facts first and developed his theories. The difference in his approach to the two fields was doubtlessly due to his strong feeling on all social issues. Regarding them he was a propagandist at heart, tending to ignore or brush aside the facts that contradicted his interpretations. He maintained that he was always ready to alter his theories in the light of facts, but like all men of deep convictions he cherished them too profoundly to see opposing facts except to demolish them. While much of his work in the social sciences is really scientific,--especially Mutual Aid and Fields, Factories and Workshops,--preconceptions color large parts of it,--a fact which, however, does not detract greatly from its value.
In his personal life he held with equal tenacity to the standards he had developed. He scrupulously refused to take a penny in compensation for his work for the movement. He refused loans or gifts even when living in pressing poverty. And even at such times he would share the little he had with all who came to him in distress. His habits were marked by moderation in everything but work, in which he was tireless. He was rigid in his opposition to tactics which he thought out of harmony with the broad principles of anarchist communism, even when the ends appeared good. He condemned comrades who jumped bail in political cases both because of the breach of faith with bondsmen and the practical effect on securing bail in other cases. He refused to countenance aid to the Russian revolutionists from the Japanese Government at the time of the Russo Japanese war, both because of its demoralizing influence and his hostility to governments.
Kropotkin is referred to by scores of people who knew him in all walks of life as "the noblest man" they ever knew. Oscar Wilde called him one of the two really happy men he had ever met. Romain Rolland said Kropotkin lived what Tolstoi only advocated. In the anarchist movement he was held in the deepest affection by thousands,--"notre Pierre" the French workers called him. Never assuming position of leadership, he nevertheless led by the moral force of his personality and the breadth of his intellect. He combined in extraordinary measure high qualities of character with a fine mind and passionate social feeling. His life made a deep impression on a great range of classes,--the whole scientific world, the Russian revolutionary movement, the radical movements of all schools, and in the literary world which cared little or nothing for science or revolution.
The significance of his revolutionary teachings in its practical relation to the world of today remain to be examined.
The years since Kropotkin did his most important work have been marked by the colossal events of the World War and the Russian Revolution, with the consequent tightening of the conflict between capitalism and the working class, and with sharp changes in the revolutionary movement based on the Russian experience. The general revolution which Kropotkin felt was imminent broke in Russia alone, with a complete expropriation of the owning class by the workers and peasants, followed by a dictatorship committed to working out communism. This revolution is the best available test of the significance of anarchist principles in action. Both Kropotkin's attitude to it and the activities of other anarchists makes it clear. Let us first state the situation in Russia.
The enormous obstacles against which Soviet Russia has contended in the world of capitalism, in internal opposition and in the indifference of the peasantry have prevented, with other lesser factors, any consistent progress toward communism and even necessitated a retreat toward capitalism. The economic order is a state socialism, with considerable private capitalism in the form of limited concessions, and a huge land owning peasantry largely unconcerned with "progress." The political order is a dictatorship by the Communist Party, the only legal party, which uses the state power to silence all opposition and to insure, as far as possible, the unimpeded execution of its program. It is in fact and spirit the realization of the very ideas which Kropotkin so vigorously fought in Marxian socialism.
The communist movement throughout the World, which developed after the Russian Revolution from the old socialist parties, carries on a militant struggle to direct the labor and radical forces toward similar revolutions elsewhere. The communists are everywhere opposed equally to the parliamentary ideas ant tactics of the socialists and to the non-political and anti-State tactics of the anarchists and syndicalists,--all of whom they regard as impotent from a revolutionary standpoint. The socialists and anarchists,--long bitter opponents in the radical camp, now share a common hostility to the Soviet government for its forcible suppression of their activities in Russia, and for its imprisonment and exile of their comrades there. The socialists hope the dictatorship may be dissolved into a democratic, parliamentary regime; the anarchists that it may give way to free federations of the decentralized workers' and peasants' organizations as the economic system. But because of the common hostility to capitalism, socialists and anarchists are on the whole reluctant to play into the hands of the capitalist enemies of Soviet Russia. Both defend Soviet Russia against capitalist attacks With some conspicuous exceptions) while condemning it bitterly for its forcible suppression of opposition. The communists on their side, while repressing anarchist and socialist activities in Russia, help defend them in capitalist countries when attacked for revolutionary or working class activities.
The differences in the communist attitude inside Russia and outside are accounted for by the practical necessities of the tactics making for revolution and the responsibilities of a government based on such a revolution. The Soviet Government will make the compromises with capitalism necessary to insure increased production of goods and trade, while refusing to tolerate radical opposition to those compromises. Even in their own Communist Party it is silenced. But outside Russia they must encourage all the forces making toward the growth of working class power.
In this paradoxical situation the anarchist communists in Russia play varying roles. Some cooperate with the Soviet Government in its economic work, accepting the necessity of the dictatorship while holding to their anarchist faith, pointing out that even Lenin believed in the ultimate validity of anarchist communism while ridiculing and opposing it now as barren of tactics for achieving its own objects. Others have accepted the necessity of silence in Russia, preferring such a dictatorship to living under a capitalist dictatorship anywhere else. Others continue to express their anarchist beliefs and to criticize Soviet policy,--and scores of them are in prison or exile. Still others have left Russia,--by actual or self imposed exile,--and are living quietly elsewhere. A few continue active anti Bolshevik propaganda on foreign soil. Among other than Russian anarchists, similar differing attitudes to the Soviet Government and communism dictate their activities,--though practically all of them oppose the forcible suppression of revolutionary opposition in Russia.
What Kropotkin himself would have done had he been younger, or even had he lived longer, can be gathered from his comments appearing on pages 256-259 [The section titled "What to Do?" in Russian Revolution and Soviet Government]. He visualized the function of anarchists as participation only in the voluntary organizations of the peasants and workers. His advice to anarchists both in Russia and outside was to work constructively in the building of a new economy, and express that constructive purpose through the syndicalist trade unions.
What practical effect both the anarchist opposition and collaboration have had on the development of the Russian Revolution is difficult to say. The movement in Russia was weak,--far weaker than the socialist,--but its policies had a direct bearing on the central economic problems confronting the Bolsheviks. The chief policy--freedom for the trade unions, cooperatives and peasants' associations,--has gained as a practical working measure in the face of the failure of rigorous centralized control by a governmental bureaucracy.
Outside Russia, in the world of working class struggle, the movement represented by Kropotkin's theories is widely spread but comparatively small. The anarchist communist movement was never really well organized, and it was always barren of practical technique. It flourished chiefly on uncompromising protest, and visions of a revolutionary goal to be achieved by abolishing the State. It was simple and daring. From a vigorous movement of protest from 1870 to 1900, it has diminished in numbers and influence. Today it is represented chiefly in the syndicalist trade union movement in Latin countries,--notably in Spain, Portugal, Mexico ant South America, but with strong smaller movements in Germany, France and Sweden. Scattered anarchist journals appear as the mouth pieces of little groups all over the world, with one anarchist daily in Buenos Aires. A syndicalist international, organized in 1922 under the name of the old International Working Men's Association, to which Kropotkin belonged, represents the syndicalist trade unions, with headquarters in Berlin.
But quite outside any organized movement, anarchist ideas are held by many people in all classes of society and are expressed in a great variety of activities, modifying and directing other movements. It has been said that all of us are naturally anarchists at heart,--which is only to say that we all desire the largest possible personal freedom and the least possible external restraint. This instinctive attitude accounts for the response to anarchist ideas in widely different groups, particularly when they do not bear that label, feared because of old associations of violence and popular caricature. Anarchism, as Kropotkin so often pointed out, is only the formulation of a universal and ancient desire of mankind. On that basis the viewpoints of scores of distinguished philosophers, writers and religious leaders may be labeled anarchist. And anarchist writers have claimed for the philosophy such diverse personalities as Emerson, Thoreau, Whitman, Jesus, Lao tse, Ibsen, Nietszche and Anatole France.
It is commonly said of anarchism that it is a beautiful dream for a remote future when we shall all have become civilized enough to get along without government and police. Or, according to the Marxians, when the class struggle is over. But that view misses the essential point that anarchism is an ever present working principle of growth toward larger freedoms, and in all social activity. If means create ends, no really free society is possible without the constant building up of habits of freer relationships, of increased individual liberty, and of larger independence for all social groups. It is significant that under the Bolshevik dictatorship in Russia, this very principle which is so scorned and ridiculed in political life, is the one that works best in building up education, the cooperatives, the trade unions, and the great network of economic and social organizations. It is significant, too, that all over the world social advances in any field are being made only on the solid basis of increased individual responsibility, voluntary association and free federation. The highway of progress lies only through increased liberty for groups and individuals, whether in education, with its new type of schools in which adult authority is minimized, or in dealing with crime, with the growing tendency to substitute friendly treatment for the brutality of the prison regime, or in family life, or in the trade unions and cooperative organizations of producers and consumers.
Kropotkin's teachings, embodying these principles, will long serve to inspire faith in freedom and to clarify thinking as to how to achieve it. It will help shape policies and develop movements in a world which has still many years of struggle before it between the forces of authority and liberty.