From: E. V. Zenker, Anarchism: A Criticism and History of the Anarchist Theory, New York and London: G. P. Putnam's Sons; The Knickerbocker Press, 1897.
PETER KROPOTKIN AND HIS SCHOOL
Biography — Kropotkin's Main Views — Anarchist Communism and the "Economics of the Heap" (tas) — Kropotkin's Relation to the Propaganda of Action — Elisée Reclus: his Character and Anarchist Writings — Jean Grave — Daniel Saurin's Order through Anarchy — Louise Michel and G. Eliévant — A. Hamon and the Psychology of Anarchism — Charles Malato and other French Writers on Anarchist Communism — The Italians: Cafiero, Merlino, and Malatesta.
"Seek not to found your comfort and freedom on the servitude of another; so long as you rule others, you will never be free yourself. Increase your power of production by studying nature; your powers will grow a thousandfold, if you put them at the service of Humanity. Free the individual: for without the freedom of the individual, it is impossible for society to become free. If you wish to emancipate yourselves, set not your hope on any help from this life or the next: help yourselves! Next you must free yourselves from all your religious and political prejudices. Be free men and trust the nature of a free man: all his faults proceed from the power which he exercises over his own kind or under which he groans."—P. KROPOTKIN.
One more Russian, a déclassé, as Bakunin was, has exercised considerable influence on the development of modern Anarchism; and, in fact, although he has introduced but few new doctrines into it, has made, in the truest sense, a school of his own. Kropotkin, is regarded everywhere as the father of "Anarchist Communism," which is, to some extent, directly opposed both to the collectivist and evolutionist Anarchism of Proudhon and to the other philosophic and individual Anarchism of Stirner. In future we must carefully discriminate between these two directions of individual and communal Anarchism; moreover they are sharply distinguished not only in their intellectual but also their actual form. The former tendency seems more adapted to the Teutonic races in Germany, England, and America, whilst the Anarchists of the Romance nations, but especially the French, are devoted to the latter—the communist doctrine of Kropotkin.
Peter Alexandriewitsch Kropotkin is a descendant of the royal house of the Ruriks, and it used to be said in jest in the revolutionary circles of St. Petersburg that he had more right to the Russian throne than the Czar Alexander II., who was only a German. Born at Moscow in 1842, he was first a page at court, then an officer in the Amur Cossacks, and next, Chamberlain to the Czarina. In this atmosphere grew up the man who is now developing a perfectly feverish activity not only in the realm of intellect and science, but also in propaganda of the most destructive character. Prince Kropotkin studied mathematics in his youth at the High School, and during his extensive travels, which led him to Siberia and even to China, acquired a great knowledge of geography. The dreaded Anarchist is and has always been active as a writer of geographical and geological works, and enjoys a considerable reputation in these sciences, apart from his activity as a Socialist teacher and agitator. During a journey to Switzerland and Belgium in the year 1872, Prince Kropotkin became more closely connected with the "International," and especially with men of Bakunin's school; and so shortly as a year later we find him in his native land compromised and arrested because of Nihilist intrigues. He spent three years as a prisoner in the fortress of SS. Peter and Paul, where, however, he was allowed to pursue his scientific studies.1 In the year 1876 he succeeded in escaping from there and reaching Switzerland. Here Kropotkin devoted himself to a feverish activity in the service of the new doctrines by which he is known. In Geneva he immediately joined the leaders of the Anarchist agitation known as the "Jurassic Union" (see the chapter on the "Spread of Anarchy"), founded the paper Révolt, and greatly assisted in extending the Union so widely in Switzerland and the South of France. After a short stay in England we find him at the beginning of the eighties in France, busy here and there with the founding of "groups," delivery of lectures, and so forth. In the sensational Anarchist trial at Lyons in 1883 he was also involved, and was condemned to five years' imprisonment upon his own confession of having been the "intellectual instigator" of the bloody demonstrations and riots at Montceau-les-Mines and Lyons in 1882. Kropotkin was, however, set free after only three years' imprisonment, and betook himself to London, where he has lived till recently.2 But the more watchful supervision of Anarchists that has been exercised since the murder of President Sadi Carnot, appears to have disgusted him with London, for his present place of abode is not known.
Kropotkin's Anarchism rests upon the most scientific and humane foundations, and yet assumes the most unscientific and brutal forms. To him the Anarchist theory appears to be nothing but a necessary adaptation of social science to that modern tendency in all other sciences which, leaving on one side abstract and collective generality, turn to the individual, as, e. g., the cellular theory, the study of molecular forces, and so on. Just as all great discoveries of modern science have proceeded by rejecting the unfruitful deductive method and beginning to build up from below, so also, Kropotkin maintains, society must be built up afresh by realising all power, all reality, all purpose in individuals, and can only arise again new-born synthetically, from the free grouping of these individuals. With unconscious self-irony, Kropotkin remarks that he would like to call this system the "synthetic," if Herbert Spencer had not already applied that name "to another system." Anyone who would conclude from this that the learned prince would build up scientifically a well-founded system, as his earlier predecessors tried to do, would be mistaken. With a few exceptions, Kropotkin has only published short works, though certainly numerous, in which he uses epithets rather than arguments, and those in an intentionally trivial tone; indeed he sometimes mocks at the "wise and learned theorists," and regards one deed as worth more than a thousand books.3 The same internal contrast is seen in him in another direction. He is apparently a philanthropist of the purest water, wishing to see the foundation of an universal brotherhood of humanity, based upon what he regards as the innate feeling of solidarity in man; we seem to see in this Proudhon's "justice," Comte's "love," in short, the moral order of the world, however materialist Kropotkin may be in action, and however much he may deny all moral element therein. But how does he mean to bring about this moral order? By any means that is suitable, even by the sanguinary "propaganda of action," and finally by the re-establishment of the actual conditions of the primeval ape-man, or tribal life on the level of the inhabitants of Tierra del Fuego.For Kropotkin Anarchy consists in (1) the liberation of the producer from the yoke of capital, in production in common, and the free enjoyment of all products of common work; (2) in freedom from any yoke of government, in the free development of individuals in groups, of groups in federations, in free organisation rising from the simple to the complex according to men's needs and mutual endeavours; and (3) in liberation from religious morality, and a free morality without duty or sanctions proceeding and becoming customary from the life of the community itself.4
The postulate of the abolition of the authority of the State is the well-known, old stock proposal of the Anarchists. But it is noticeable that Kropotkin attacks the State among other things, because it does not carry out the maxim of laisser faire so often imposed upon it by another party. Kropotkin thinks that the State acts rather on the principle of not laisser faire, and is always intervening in favour of the exploiter as against the exploited (Les Temps Nouveaux, p. 46). The State is accordingly a purely civic idea (l'idée bourgeoise), utterly rotten and decaying, only held together by the plague of laws. All law and dominion, including parliamentary government, must therefore be put aside, and be replaced by the "system of no government" and free arrangement (la libre entente). Kropotkin sees everywhere already, even at present in public, and especially in economic life, germs of this free understanding or entente, in which government never intervenes; what, for example, in isolated cases two railway companies do in making a free arrangement about fares and time-tables, is to be the universal form of society.
In this society the feeling of solidarity alone, which Kropotkin assumes as a sort of é priori axiom of society, will determine men's actions: "Each must retain the right of acting as he thinks best, and the right of society to punish any one for a social action in any way must be denied...." "We are not afraid of doing without judges and their verdicts," says he, in La Morale Anarchiste. "With Guyon we renounce each and every approval of morality or any duties to morality. We do not shrink from saying: Do what pleases you! Act as you think fit! for we are convinced that the great majority of mankind, in proportion to their enlightenment and to the completeness with which they throw off their present fetters, will always act in a manner beneficial to society—just as we are certain that some day or other a child will walk upon its two feet and not on all fours, because it is born of parents that belong to the genus homo." But the comparison is incorrect. There are, as a matter of fact, degenerate children of human kind who, deprived of all understanding, creep on all fours quite unconcernedly. Equally insufficient is another proof adduced by Kropotkin, who is a great friend of animals, from the animal world. Looking around among animals, he finds in them also an innate feeling of sympathy with their own species, expressed in mutual assistance in time of need or danger.
By this he wishes to prove that men likewise would act in the same way to their fellow-men merely from the feeling of solidarity, and without laws or government. Elsewhere certainly, in a later work, he has to confess that there are among men an enormous number of individuals who do not understand that the welfare of the individual is identical with that of the race. But supposing that man were exactly like the animals, then—speaking in Kropotkin's manner—he would stand no higher in morality than they. But then do we really find that, in the animal world, the number of cases in which they act from a feeling of solidarity is greater than those in which they simply make use of brute force or blind want of forethought, and have animals the sense to do away with organised solidarity, the State, in order to replace it by something unorganised and consequently less valuable?
But Prince Kropotkin, who appears to be such a stern materialist, is a very enthusiast, who gives way to utter self-deception as to human nature. "We do not want to be governed!" he says; "and do we not thereby declare that we ourselves wish to rule no one? We do not wish to be deceived; we always would hear nothing but the truth. Do we not declare by this that we ourselves wish to deceive no one, and that we promise to speak always the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?" Who can fail to recognise here the exact opposite to the real facts of the case? The Anarchists, and especially those who acknowledge Kropotkin as their highest "authority," do not wish force used against them, yet use it themselves; they do not wish to be killed, and yet kill others. Can there be a stronger refutation of Anarchist morality?
Kropotkin has finally broken with the Communism of Proudhon, and placed Anarchist Communism in its stead. Proudhon, and, to a certain extent, Bakunin also—who always called himself a Collectivist, and repelled the charge of Communism5—certainly attacked property as rente or profit derived from the appropriation of the forces of nature; but they have also not only not denied the right to individual possession of property, but even sought to make it general. Everyone should become a possessor of property; only land and the means of labour, which must be accessible to all, may not be appropriated; they are collective property, and are applied to employment in a proportion equal to the quotient of the amount of land at disposal, or the means of production on the one hand and the number of members of free "groups" on the other. We have already seen to what a complicated organisation of economic life this led in the case of Proudhon's theory; but he did not entrust the maintenance of this economic order to the strong hand of the State, but believed that life, when once brought into equilibrium or "balance," could never fall away from it again. We will not repeat here what an illusion is contained in this. Collectivism left to itself must degenerate again at once into a state of economic inequality, and accordingly those Collectivists who make the maintenance of economic equilibrium the business of the State, possess at least the merit of consistency. But then the very foundation idea of Anarchism is hereby lost.
This irreconcilable contradiction between Anarchism and Collectivism decided Kropotkin to give up the latter entirely, and to set up in its stead Anarchist Communism, thus attaching himself to the lines already indicated by Hess and Grün. He criticised unsparingly (in La Conquête du Pain and Le Salariat) every system of reward or wages, whether based on Saint-Simon's principle of "To each according to his capacity, and to every capacity according to its results"; or on Proudhon's rule, "to each according to his powers, to each according to his needs." With the reward of labour he rejects the period of labour, possession even in the form of Collective possession, and also the payment of labour (les bons du travail), equally with other forms of property, capital, or exploitation. He even attacks the theory of the full result of labour that ought to accrue to every labourer, this most stalwart hobby-horse of Socialism. "It would mean the annihilation of the race," he says, "if the mother would not sacrifice her life to save the life of her children; if man would not give where he could expect no recompense."
Kropotkin's motto, that has been so eagerly accepted by the Anarchists of Romance nationality, is on the contrary: "Everything belongs to all," tout est é tous; i. e., no one is any longer a possessor; if after the Revolution all goods and property were expropriated and given back to the community, then everybody would take what he pleased, according to his needs. Anyone might just as well appropriate the land as another object or commodity. "Heap together all the means of life, and let them be divided according to each man's need," he cries6; "let each choose freely from this heap everything of which there is a superfluity, and let only those commodities be divided of which there might be some lack. That is a solution of the problem according to the wish of the people." Again, "free choice from the heap in all means of life that are abundant, proper division (rationement) of all those things the production of which is limited; division according to needs, with special regard to children, old people, and the weak generally. The enjoyment of all this not in a social feeding-institution (dans la marmite sociale), but at home in the family circle with our friends, according to the taste of the individual, that is the ideal of the masses, whose mouthpiece we are."
It is interesting to see how all attempts to do away with individual property come back again at once in thought to that same property, and in opposition Proudhon might on this basis write a very pretty retort to What is Property? Kropotkin wishes first of all a general expropriation, and then each person is to have what he likes. But what is the use of an expropriation, which only means one thing, if a division to all is to follow it? Would it not be simpler as the inauguration of Anarchist Communism, to do away with the guarantee of property at once, and then to watch quietly and see how individuals deprived each other of their possessions? The result would be just the same, but there is a well-understood contradiction in first declaring all property as a common possession—in which the reality of society which Kropotkin denies is thereby recognised—and then giving to each person the right to dispose as he pleases of everything. Stirner was at least logical when he declared: "All belongs to me!" As a matter of fact the statements, "All belongs to me," "All belongs to all," "Nothing belongs to me," and "Nothing belongs to all," are perfectly identical. The difference between all these conceptions of property according to the principles of individualist or Communist Anarchism, and the relations of property as they exist to-day, merely reduces itself to this, that with us the State affords the guarantee of property, while Anarchy, at most, places the guarantee of it in free association or agreement, proceeding from a "group" or a "union of egotists." Here we come face to face with the purely formal question of whether right is derived from convention or compulsion; but as regards individual property as such no alteration is thereby made.
But Kropotkin's "economics of the heap" (la mise au tas, la prise au tas) has another fault besides this matter of logic. Its talented inventor proceeds from two assumptions, which characterise him as a Utopian of the first water; on the one hand the old and incorrect assumption of the inexhaustible productivity of the earth, and on the other the assumption of the innate solidarity of mankind.
Kropotkin maintains that production now already outweighs consumption, and that the former is growing with unsuspected rapidity together with scientific insight into the methods of production and with freedom of production. A piece of land which to-day is cultivated by ten persons, and feeds one hundred, would with rational cultivation feed one thousand people, and with the general employment of machinery would only require five persons to cultivate it. In fact, diminution of labour, with increase of production under rational cultivation, is perhaps the quintessence of Kropotkin's argument. Men will then quickly leave the less productive countries to settle in the most suitable and most productive districts, and from these they will extract with proportionately little labour a never-ending superfluity, so that the economic arrangement proposed by Kropotkin will become not only possible, but there will even be too much to distribute. Here again we have the Land of Idleness in the disguise of science, the millennium of the revolution. Let us listen to the description of this return to Paradise in Kropotkin's own words:
"The workers will [after the Revolution] go away from the city and return to the country. With the help of machinery which will enable the weakest among us to support it, they will introduce the revolution into the methods of cultivation, as they had previously with the ideas and conditions, of those who were before but slaves. Here hundreds of acres will be covered with glass houses, and men and women will tend with gentle hands the young plants. Elsewhere hundreds of acres will be cleared and broken up by machinery worked by steam, improved by manures and enriched by phosphates. Laughing troops of workers will in due time cover these fields with seeds, guided in their work and in their experiments by those who understand agriculture, but all of them continually animated by the powerful and practical spirit of a people that has waked up from a long sleep and sees before it the happiness of all, that light-house of humanity shedding its rays afar. And in two or three months an early harvest will relieve their most pressing needs, and provide with food a people who after centuries of silent hope will at last be able to satisfy its hunger or eat as its appetite desires. Meanwhile the popular genius, the genius of a people that is rising and knows its own requirements, will seek new means of production which only need the test of experiment in order to come into general use. Attempts will be made to concentrate light, that well-known factor in agriculture, which in the latitude of Yakutsk ripens barley in forty-five days, and to produce it artificially, and with light rival heat in promoting the growth of plants. Some genius of the future will invent an instrument to guide the rays of the sun, and compel them to do work without it being necessary to seek in the depths of the earth for the heat contained in coal. Efforts will be made to water the ground with solutions of minute organisms—an idea of yesterday that will make it possible to introduce into the ground the little living cells that are necessary for plants in order to feed the young roots, and to decompose the component parts of the earth, and make them fit to be assimilated." Kropotkin adds, rendering criticism unnecessary: "We shall make experiments, but we need go no farther, for we should enter upon the realms of romance."
We need not now consider whether the statement that production is already surpassing the capacity of consumption is really quite true; the vast majority of economists is of a different opinion. But even if it were so, and if production should further increase, Kropotkin himself admits that the necessary presupposition of abundant production is rational cultivation. But the first condition of such rational agriculture is fixed organisation. This condition is to-day fulfilled; but in Kropotkin's scheme there would only be cultivation by robbery, and that invariably leads at last to want, and a lack of production. Kropotkin has seen this himself, for otherwise his proposal to distribute those products, the growth of which is limited, and of which there might be a lack, would be most superfluous; for in the land of lotus-eaters there is no want.
This admission that such a case might happen is, however, not only a relapse from the promised land of the future into the sober reality of to-day, but it is the negation of Anarchy. Where is the line to be drawn between the superfluous and the non-superfluous? Who is to draw it, and still more, who would recognise it? Who will undertake the distribution, and who will respect it? Every form of authority is abolished, and no one is pledged to anything. What if I simply refuse to recognise the limits made by the Commission of Distribution or to obey their decisions? Will anyone compel me? In that case Anarchy would be a fraud; but if I am allowed to do as I like, distribution is impossible and Communism a fraud.
From this dilemma Kropotkin has endeavoured to extricate himself, in the fashion of certain celebrated examples, by invoking a deus ex machina. Comte called it love, Proudhon justice, and Kropotkin calls it "the solidarity of the human race,"—three different words, but they imply one and the same thing: the moral order of the universe—a dogma which anyone may believe or not, as he likes. Kropotkin assures us that, when once the great revolution has taken place, human solidarity will arise like a phœnix from the smoking ashes of the old order. We do not consider ourselves better or worse than other men, but we doubt very seriously whether we ourselves, if confronted on the one hand by want, and on the other by Kropotkin's famous "heap of commodities," would give up the chief necessaries of life (and it is these in which want must first be felt, just because they are the most necessary) merely out of a feeling of solidarity with a man who next moment, if he is stronger than I, might turn me out of my house, kill me, or part with my books or pictures as if they were his own, with impunity. This sort of Communism would only be possible under the rule of a despotic authority, such as the social-democratic State of the future must inevitably possess; but it would never be possible for a libre entente of perfectly free individuals; "free" men in the Anarchist sense will never let themselves be made equal and never have done so.
But Kropotkin thinks otherwise. He goes back to those dear, good, and too happy savages of Rousseau, and tells us7 that primitive peoples, so long as they submit to no authority but live in Anarchy, lead a most enviably happy life. "Apart from the occurrences of natural forces, such as sudden changes of weather, earthquakes, frost, etc., and apart from war and accidents, primitive races lead a rich and full life out of their own resources, following their own wishes, at the cost of the minimum of labour. Read the descriptions left by the great voyagers of early centuries, read certain modern records of travel, and you will see that where society has not yet sunk under the yoke of priests and warriors, plenty prevails among savages. Like gregarious birds they spend the morning in common labour; in the evening they rest in common and enjoy themselves. They have none of the troubles of life known to the proletariat in the great centres of industry of our time. Misery only overtakes them when they fall under the yoke of some form of authority."
Here we have the golden age existing before any form of society, just as previously we heard the description of a golden age after the fall of forms of society, and that the misery of this "cursed civilisation" can only be removed by doing away with such a society and returning again to the same primitive condition. It is the same old tale of the "social-contract" theory to which our Anarchists one and all invariably recur after manifold scientific toil and trouble. In fact this primitive paradise described by Kropotkin is just as much a figment of his imagination as the Anarchist paradise of the future. He speaks of early travellers. Now, as regards the ethnographic observations of old travellers, they are a very doubtful source of information. Formerly it was frequently declared off-hand that this or that people had no idea of religion or lived in Anarchy. The reason was that travellers completely underrated primitive forms in comparison with their own preconceived religious or political ideas and regarded them as naught. Exact observations have shown that a complete lack of all religious conceptions is as rare in primitive races as complete lack of all social organisation or form of authority. Kropotkin unfortunately does not mention the "certain new travellers" in whose books he has read those descriptions of the happy state of primitive peoples produced by Anarchy. As far as we know, Anarchy in the proper sense can only be stated of a very small number of races like the Tierra del Fuegans, the Eskimos, etc.; but the life of these people is, to their disadvantage, exceedingly different from the fancied paradise of Kropotkin. If we read the unanimous descriptions given by Fitzroy, Darwin, Topinard, and others about the inhabitants of Tierra del Fuego, we shall very quickly abjure our belief—if we ever held it—that they lead such an Eden-like existence as Kropotkin's Anarchist savages. We find, rather, misery and hunger as permanent conditions, that appear here as consequences of Anarchy, and the blame cannot be laid entirely upon the lack of fertility of the soil. Narborough8 says of the Tierra del Fuegans: "If any desire for civilisation arose, the forests that cover the country would not be an obstacle thereto, for in many parts there appear open, grassy spots, which are frequently regarded by seamen as the remnants of attempts at agriculture by the Spaniards." But in general the statements of all travellers and ethnographers agree in showing that the existence of these so-called "savages" is a continual and bitter struggle against nature and against each other for the barest necessaries of life, and that if hunger is not a constant guest, their mode of living is a very irregular alternation between surfeit and prolonged fast. How difficult it is to rear children among these primitive people and even among others more advanced in civilisation is proved by the terrible custom, common to all parts of the globe, of infanticide, which has no other object than artificial selection for breeding in view of the harsh conditions of existence. Persons who are regarded by the community only as mouths to feed and not as actual workers, the old and weak, are simply killed off by many races—even by those who, in other respects, do not stand upon a low level; and the murder of the parents and the aged appears to be as widespread among primitive races as infanticide. But these are facts which not only contradict the Anarchist assumption of a golden age of Anarchy, but still more contradict that of an innate feeling of solidarity in the human race.
A further remark remains to be made as to Kropotkin's attitude toward the "propaganda of action." It is often said that he rejects it. But that is quite contrary to the facts. In his Psychology of Revolution (L'Esprit de Révolte, p. 7) he takes up quite a decisive attitude in reply to the question how words must be translated into deeds: "The answer is easy," says he; "it is action, the continual, incessantly renewed action of the minority that will produce this transformation. Courage, devotion, self-sacrifice, are as contagious as cowardice, subjection, and terror. What forms is action to take? Any form—as different as are circumstances, means, and temperaments. Sometimes arousing sorrow, sometimes scorn, but always bold; sometimes isolated, sometimes in common, it despises no means ready to hand, it neglects no opportunity of public life to propagate discontent, and to clothe it in words, to arouse hatred against the exploiter, to make the ruling powers ridiculous, to show their weakness, and ever to excite audacity, the spirit of revolt, by the preaching of example. If a feeling of revolution awakes in a country, and the spirit of open revolt is already sufficiently alive among the masses to break out in tumultuous disorders in the streets, émeutes and risings,—then it is 'action' alone by which the minority can create this feeling of independence and that atmosphere of audacity without which no revolution can be completed. Men of courage who do not stop at words but seek to transform them into deeds, pure characters for whom the action and the idea are inseparable, who prefer prison, exile, or death, rather than a life not in accordance with their principles, fearless men, who know what must be risked in order to win success,—those are the devoted outposts who begin the battle long before the masses are sufficiently moved to unfurl the standard of insurrection, and to march sword in hand to the conquest of their rights. Amid complaints, speeches, theoretical discussions, an act of personal or general revolt takes place. It cannot be otherwise than that the great mass at first remains indifferent; those especially who admire the courage of the person or group that took the initiative will apparently follow the wise and prudent in hastening to describe this act as folly, and in speaking of the fools and hot-headed people who compromise everything. These wise and prudent ones had fully calculated that their party, if it slowly pursued its objects, would perhaps have conquered the world in one, two, or three centuries, and now the unforeseen intrudes! The unforeseen is that which was not foreseen by the wise and prudent. But those who know history and can lay claim to any well-ordered reasoning power, however small, know quite well that a theoretical propaganda of revolution must necessarily be translated into action long before theorists have decided that the time for it has come. None the less the theorists are enraged with the 'fools' and excommunicate and ban them. But the fools find sympathy, the mass of the people secretly applaud their boldness, and they find imitators. In proportion as the first of them fill the prisons, others come forward to continue their work. The acts of illegal protest, of revolt, of revenge, increase. Indifference becomes impossible. Those who at first only asked what on earth the fools meant, are compelled to take them seriously, to discuss their ideas, and to take sides for or against. By acts which are done under the notice of the people, the new idea communicates itself to men's minds and finds adherents. One such act makes in a few days more proselytes than thousands of books."
This is precisely the view of the followers of Bakunin, only obscured and founded on a psychological basis.
Kropotkin forms the centre of a large number of Anarchist authors, who are working at the development or the popularising of Anarchist theory on the same lines as he is doing. From the mass of unimportant writers two rise up prominently, both essentially differing one from the other, Elisée Reclus, the savant, and Jean Grave, editor of the Révolte.
Jean Jacques Elisée Reclus9 was born on March 15, 1830, at Ste. Foy la Grande, in the Gironde, the son of a Protestant minister. He was the eldest but one of twelve children, and early became acquainted with want and distress, a circumstance which, in conjunction with his warm and affectionate heart, sufficiently explains his later social views. Educated in Rhenish Prussia, he attended the Protestant Faculty at Montauban, in Southern France, and then the University of Berlin, where he studied geography under Ritter. At present Reclus is regarded as one of the best geographers, and is the author of the famous and much admired Nouvelle Géographie Universelle, in nineteen volumes, and of the great popular physical geography La Terre, which has also been translated into German. His student life and also his stay at Berlin coincided with the stormy period of the Revolution of 1848, and Reclus eagerly accepted the views of the political and social Radicalism of that day. The coup d'état of December 2, 1851, compelled him to leave France; he fled to England, visited Ireland, and then from 1852 to 1857 travelled in the United States, North America, Central America, and Colombia. Returning to Paris, he devoted himself to a scientific arrangement of his studies during his travels, but at the same time took a more and more active part in the social and political movements of the day. Thus he was one of the first authors in France who eagerly supported the war of the Northern States of America for freedom, and defended Lincoln. When the American Minister in Paris wished to express his recognition to the savant, then living in extremely modest circumstances, by the present of a considerable sum of money, Reclus angrily rejected it. During the siege of Paris in 1870, Elisée Reclus joined the National Guard, and was one of the crew of the balloon under Nadar who endeavoured to convey news outside Paris. As a member of the International Association of Workmen, he published in the Cri du Peuple, at the time of the outbreak of the 18th March, 1871, a hostile manifesto against the Government at Versailles. Still belonging to the National Guard, which had now risen, he took part in a reconnaissance on the plateau of Chatillon, in which he was taken prisoner on the 5th of April. After seven months' imprisonment in Brest, during which he taught his fellow-prisoners mathematics, the court-martial in St. Germain condemned him, on 16th November, 1871, to be transported. This sentence caused a great outcry in scientific circles, and from different quarters, especially from eminent English statesmen and men of letters, among them being Darwin, Wallace, and Lord Amberley, the President of the French Republic was urged to mitigate his punishment. Accordingly, Thiers commuted the sentence of transportation on 4th January, 1872, to one of simple banishment. Reclus then proceeded to Lugano, but soon afterwards lost his young wife there, whom he loved passionately, and who had followed him into banishment. Later on he went to Switzerland, where he settled at Clarens, near Montreux, on the Lake of Geneva, and devoted himself again to Communist and geographical studies. In 1879, Reclus returned to Paris, was appointed in 1892 Professor of Geography at Brussels, but in 1893 was again deprived of his post on account of Anarchist outrages, in which he was quite unjustly supposed to be implicated. The students thereupon left the university, and founded a free university, in which Reclus is at present a professor.
Elisée Reclus's Anarchism is explained externally not only by his intimate friendship with Kropotkin, but still more from his connexion with an "Anarchist family," for his brother, the eminent anthropologist Elié, and several of his nephews as well as their wives are devoted adherents of Anarchism. But while the younger members of the Reclus family are more closely connected with the "propaganda of action" (the engineer Paul Reclus was accused of being an accomplice of Vaillant), the older members, especially Elisée, are learned dreamers who have nothing in common with the folly of the dynamitard. "The idea of Anarchism is beautiful, is great," says Elisée, "but these miscreants sully our teaching: he who calls himself an Anarchist should be one of a good and gentle sort. It is a mistake to believe that the Anarchist idea can be promoted by acts of barbarity." And in the preface to the last volume of his Universal Geography he says of his travels: "I have everywhere found myself at home, in my own country, among men, my brothers. I have never allowed myself to be carried away by sentiment, except that of sympathy and respect for all the inhabitants of the one great Fatherland. On this round earth that revolves so rapidly in space, a grain of sand amid infinity, is it worth while for us to hate one another?"
Reclus has no special doctrine, but shares generally the views of his friend Kropotkin, although his greater scientific insight on many points leads him to incline rather to the Collectivism of Proudhon and Bakunin. The "economy of the heap" (tas) appears to Reclus, at any rate in the province of agriculture, to be unworkable. He prefers a distribution of land among individuals, family groups, and communities, according to the proposition of individual and collective power of labour. "The moment a piece of landed property surpasses the limits which can be properly cultivated, the holder should have no right to claim the surplus for himself; it will fall to the share of another worker." The Russian mir is always before his thoughts as the patron of peasant organisation. Nothing is more remarkable than the affection of the Anarchist followers of Proudhon and Bakunin for the Russian mir system. It would be a meritorious piece of sociological work to show the fundamental errors which underlie the agricultural systems that have been tried and have failed in modern attempts to revive them. The endeavour to revive them is now so general that it is no longer to be wondered at that we see those who are apparently most extreme, and even Anarchists, following the same reactionary stream as the Socialist Catholics and their followers. The folly of their proceedings is best seen in those people who angrily reject a revival of the guilds, but by no means object to the revival of the old village communism, which implies a far earlier stage of development. We are, however, digressing, but must add one further remark. The Anarchists are accustomed to say that their free economic organisation will quite absorb and devour politics, authority, and government, so that nothing of them remains; while, on the other hand, they represent the mir as the pattern of such an organisation. But how comes it that, in the very country where the mir, this "just" village communism, exists, in Russia itself, on the one hand famine is never absent,10 and on the other the Czar's bureaucracy and Cossack tyranny flourish so exceedingly, and that the peasant population itself is the most powerful support of the arbitrary rule of their "Little Father," the Czar?
It might seem surprising that a savant of Reclus's calibre does not himself perceive a refutation that is so obvious. But Reclus is a type: who does not know the figure—even here not seldom seen—of the earnest savant, full of the purest love and devotion for mankind, who dabbles in politics in his leisure hours? It is as if in this time of leisure his spirit seeks to free itself from the severe discipline of his professional life. The man who, in his capacity as a doctor, a geographer, or physicist, would never allow subjective influences to trouble his method, deals with politics quite apart, as if there were not also a science of politics that, like any other science, regards freedom from the subjective standpoint, or from love and hatred as the first condition of the validity of its propositions. Reclus, the celebrated geographer, goes so far, as a politician, as to deny the value of political economy and to assert that every workman knows more, and is better acquainted with social laws, than the learned economist.
On the other hand, it is just this circumstance that gives this aged savant an importance in Anarchist theory, to which the originality and the teaching of his Anarchist writings could give him no claim. The pamphlet Evolution and Revolution is nothing but a rechauffé of the well-known commonplaces of Anarchism; but the noble personality of Reclus that stands out before us at every sentence, the honourable intention, the high moral desire, the inspired hope which make even the errors of opponents so touching, give the little book the same importance for his followers as the Contrat Social once possessed, and makes his decoction the quintessence of Anarchist thought, in its noblest, purest, and also—as a consequence—its most nebulous form.
A man of quite a different stamp is Jean Grave, the soul of the chief Anarchist organ, the Parisian Révolte, which originated from the earlier paper, the Révolte of Kropotkin, which appeared previously in Geneva, and was suppressed there in 1885. Among the multitude of déclassés who gave up their millions, their rank, and their estates in order to preach Anarchy, Grave has been, since Proudhon, the only member of the proletariat who has made any important contributions to the theoretical edifice of the new doctrine. He was first a cobbler and then a printer, before becoming editor of the Parisian weekly journal.
Grave is the Netschajew of Kropotkin. In the year 1883 he published, under the name of Jehan Levagre, a production entitled Publication du Groupe de se et 43e Arrondissements, wherein he maintained the thesis that public propaganda must serve the secret "propaganda of action" as a means of defence; it must offer it the means of action, namely, men, money, and influence; and especially must contribute to place these actions in the right light by commenting upon them. That is also the method in which Grave edits the Révolte. He is every inch the man of action, both in his journal and in his other writings, most of all in his book La Société Mourante et l'Anarchie(printed in London; the original edition is suppressed in France), which in 1894 brought upon its author a sentence of two years' imprisonment on account of its provocative tone. On the other hand, in his latest work, La Société au Lendemain de la Révolution (3d ed., Paris, 1893), Grave endeavours not only to write as a theorist, but has even sketched a definite picture of the Anarchist paradise. Adorned with the exterior drapery of the modern doctrine of descent and by the influence of H. Spencer, who has been totally misunderstood by Grave as by all other Anarchists, the teaching of Kropotkin here meets us without essential addition, but clear and precise. Grave only admits an organisation in the society of the future in the sense of a friendly agreement, formed by the identity of interests among individuals who group themselves together for the common execution of some task. These societies, which are formed and dissolved again merely according to the needs of the moment, are the alpha and omega of social organisation. From the group will proceed the production of shoes and the construction of further railways; there may be co-operation of groups, but no centralisation in the shape of commissions, delegations, or similar "parasitic" institutions. The ticklish question of the position of children under Anarchy is solved (with the resolute optimism peculiar to Grave) by a libre entente. Naturally there can be no right to any child, since there will be at most merely a "family group," and not a family. Those who wish to nurse and look after their children can, of course, do so; and those who do not wish to, can probably find some enthusiast who will with pleasure relieve them of the burden of humanity to which they have certainly given life, but which concerns them no more from the moment when the umbilical cord between mother and child is severed. Of course there can be no talk of education under Anarchy, because education and discipline presuppose authority; and therefore education will be a matter of "individual initiative." On the other hand, education will flourish luxuriantly because every one will perceive its value; and so on.
The internal contradiction of Anarchism is nowhere so clearly seen as when it is a question of children, who form the most important group of "the weak." We have already touched upon this in connection with Stirner's union of egoists. But the more one attempts to understand this state of society in detail, the more violent becomes the contradiction between its supposed purpose and its actual consequences. For what purpose are we to overthrow the present order of society, and make any other form of society resting upon authority impossible? Is it in order to make the oppression of the weak by the strong, of minorities by majorities, of one man by another, impossible; to give each individual his full "integral" freedom? And what, as a matter of fact, would be the consequences of Anarchy? Imagine wanton, idle mothers, without conscience and seeking only enjoyment—and Grave admits that such exist to-day, and that in a future society they cannot be compelled to support their children,—imagine that such persons are set free from the duty of caring for their own offspring, of suckling and attending to them, and that it is to be left to mere chance and the "enthusiasm" of others, whether a child gets milk, or even is fed and cared for. How many children would perish? How many "weaker ones" would fall victims to the brutality of the stronger in the valuation of their individuality? We cannot be deceived with the "innate harmony or solidarity, justice or love of mankind," or whatever other name may be given to this figment of the imagination; still less with the Land of Indolence, overflowing with plenty, promised by Kropotkin and his followers. Both of these suppositions must first of all be proved actually to exist; at present they are only maintained obstinately because, as a matter of fact, they cannot be proved.
Nature and life speak another language, perhaps more sorrowful and more convincing. The appeals to Darwin and Büchner are, in the language of Darwinism, the society of to-day, and any other form of society based upon the principle of the State implies a softening of the struggle for existence by artificial selection; but Anarchy would be natural selection, and thus would be a step lower in development. The return to primitive stages, which have long since been passed through, would be the external form in which this fact would appear; thus, for example, the conditions described by Grave in "the sexual group" would mean a return to the times and conditions which, in all races of a primitive type living in total or partial Anarchy, have led to the dreadful custom of murdering children and old people. But this would mean a return to artificial selection in its most primitive and sanguinary form. Anarchists want us to undergo once again all the errors, terrors, and madness associated with the results won by human culture; and that there will not be even a respectable minority prepared to do. But they wish to do it in order to introduce "happiness for all" (le bonheur de l'humanité), to change the "struggle for existence" into a general "struggle with nature," as all Anarchists from Proudhon to Grave have dreamed; and in this lies the incomprehensible and ineffable contradiction.
More original than Reclus and Grave, if only after the fashion of the eclectic who can quicken the various ancient and modern elements of thought into a new spirit, is Daniel Saurin, who, in his work on Order through Anarchy (L' Ordre par l'Anarchie, Paris, 1893), tries to find a philosophic foundation for Anarchism. For Saurin, humanity is something substantial and real, not that tohuwabohn from which even Reclus cannot rescue Kropotkin's "economics of the heap." According to Saurin the normal man combines two elements: a constant something that is permanent throughout the centuries, and, surpassing space and time, comes back again in all nations and persons; and a variable. The first is "man," the latter the individual. The human average (le minimum humain) appears in the bodily, moral, and mental equality of men; the individual is determined by the relation of these constants to an environment (milieu). Above the individual stands Man, and Man includes all individuals in himself. The laws of each individual are thus the laws of humanity; the law of society resides in ourselves; to recognise the essential conditions of our being is to recognise the essential form of society; to realise them, to be what man is, is to respect the reality of others, is to be "sociable." The most perfect form of society, therefore, is found in the fullest freedom of the ego; for this no human laws are needed. "To what purpose is it to re-enact natural laws and to wish to confirm their powerful commands by the ridiculous sanctions of men? Our obedience to them can add nothing to them; without our knowing or wishing it, we must obey them. Anarchy is thus not lack of order but the most natural order.... From the real society which binds us individuals together springs the universal law, the irrevocable moral order, to which each existence is bound and which it follows, without thereby belying the principle of Anarchy; for Anarchy cannot possibly be a mere unconditioned loosing of all bonds, the unreal absolute.... Man is higher than the individual; at least he stands before the individual, and in him is the passing of phenomena. Thus, also, morals must come before sociology, and form the foundation of a society which seeks to be permanent."
Here, post tot discrimina rerum, we have again the moral order of the universe, to which we may apply the words of a celebrated Englishman, who said of certain moralists: "It would be thought absurd to say the planets must move in circles because the circle is the most perfect figure, and yet the dogmas of certain politicians are just as absurd as this assertion."
As the caricature of the social revolutionist in petticoats, Louise Michel11 has, perhaps wrongly, obtained a kind of celebrity as a type. Her memoirs show her, as Zetkin proves, as a noble, self-sacrificing, unselfish, and mild character. "Like all sharply-defined characters, Louise Michel suffers from the defects of her qualities. She is courageous to the point of aimless recklessness, so full of character that she might be termed obstinate; sympathetic and soft-hearted to the verge of sentimentality. Her idealism often loses itself in the misty regions of indistinctness, and borders on mysticism; her kindness degenerates into weakness, her trustfulness into credulity. But all these faults cannot weaken the general impression of this pure and noble character; on the contrary, they are the shadows which show up the lights more clearly and distinctly. Her Anarchism, Socialism, or whatever else it may be called, has nothing in common with modern scientific Socialism, except its unsparing criticism of the modern form of society and its persistent attempt to transform it and to produce a state of things more suitable to modern conditions. But her criticism finds support in quite different arguments; an idealist lack of clearness enfolds the end to be attained, and still more the means to it. She knows historical facts well enough, but lacks insight into the historical process of development; and still less does she possess a clear comprehension of economic relationships. To her a social transformation is not the natural and necessary product of historical and economic development, but the demand made by a passionate feeling of justice, a categorical imperative. If Louise Michel had lived in the middle ages, she would, without doubt, have been the foundress of a new religious order; as a child of the nineteenth century, as an atheist, who cannot postpone the redress of injustice into another life, she became a social revolutionary."
Her career shows the unselfishness and self-sacrifice with which Louise Michel carried out her ideas. She was born in 1836 at the French castle of Broncourt; she calls herself "a bastard"; her mother was a simple peasant girl, an orphan without either brothers or sisters, brought up in the castle, and seduced by the son of its owner. The young man's parents decided that Louise and her mother should remain in the castle, as an act of justice, not of kindness. After the death of her grandparents Louise left the castle with her mother in 1850, passed her examination as a teacher, and, as she would not take the oath necessary for holding office in Napoleonic France, she opened a "free school," i. e., a private school in a little village. In 1856 she came to Paris as assistant teacher in another private school, lived in extreme poverty, took a most active part in the struggles of the Commune in May, 1871, was taken prisoner and was to have been shot, but was condemned in December, 1871, to be transported to New Caledonia, whence she returned in 1880, in consequence of the general amnesty then given. She took part in editing Anarchist journals, and was condemned in 1886 to five years' imprisonment "for incitement to plunder." After three years she was pardoned by the President, but "she regarded this as a disgraceful insult," against which she protested violently, and absolutely refused to accept it, so that she had to be turned out of prison by force. Since then she has lived in London, where she acts as head of the "Réveil International des Femmes," an organisation possessing a journal and preaching an exceedingly confused and old-maidish form of female emancipation.
Around these figures of modern French Anarchism are grouped a number of theorists of inferior rank, partly belonging to the literary aftergrowth and Bohemia, partly learned persons, contributors to the Révolté, the Pére Peinard, the Revue Anarchiste, the L'en Dehors, and other Anarchist prints in Paris,12 mostly of a very ephemeral character.
Thus we have G. Eliévant, who wrote a declaration of Anarchist principles (Déclarations, Paris, 1893), in consequence of a charge made against him in 1893 in connection with the dynamite robbery at Soisy-sous-Etiolles, a book regarded by the Anarchists as one of the standard works of their literature. A. Hamon, a learned sociologist, has written a pamphlet, Les Hommes et les Théories de l'Anarchie (Paris, 1893), which has enjoyed a wide circulation; and is preparing a large Psychology of Anarchists, of which he has already published a short summary (see Dubois, u. s., pp. 207-243). Hamon, in order to gain a knowledge empirically of the assumptions of psychology, has set on foot an inquiry (enquéte), and put to several Anarchists the question, how and why they have become Anarchists. An examination of the confessions thus obtained showed that the chief peculiarity of the Anarchist mind is the inclination to revolt, which displays itself in the most various forms, such as a desire for opposition, criticism, and love of modernity (philoneismus); and that this tendency is combined with a remarkable love of freedom and strongly developed individuality. "The Anarchist must be free: he hates laws and authority"—all three traits unite in one; but Hamon's investigations completely confirm our assertion, that Anarchism is principally an emphasising of the sentiment of individuality and freedom, and cannot be explained sufficiently—perhaps not at all—by mere pauperism; in other words, Anarchism is not an economic but a political question. But to this predisposition to individualism, says Hamon, there must be united, in order to produce an Anarchist, also a strongly developed sentiment of Altruism, a fanatical love of humanity, a strong sense of justice, and finally, a keen faculty for logic. We do not wish to deny this; but we have seen that Cosmopolitanism, an over-excited sense of justice, and a certain tendency to dialectic jeux d'esprit, has been a common quality of all the doctrines we have hitherto described.
Charles Malato (de Corné), of the old Italian nobility, the son of a Communist, with whom he went to New Caledonia, is one of the chief literary representatives and more eager supporters of the propaganda of Anarchism in Paris. Besides a Philosophy of Anarchy, a book called Révolution Chrétienne et Révolution Sociale, and the widely circulated pamphlet, Les Travailleurs des Villes aux Travailleurs des campagnes (issued anonymously in 1888, and recently again at Lyons in 1893), he has written a long-winded diary, De la Commune é l'Anarchie (Paris, 1894), a kind of family history of Anarchism in Paris, its press, its groups, and its representatives, from doctrinaires like Grave and Kropotkin to the men of action like Pini, Ravachol, and Vaillant.
Other names of some note in the Anarchist world are Zo d'Axa (his real name is Galland), the former editor of L'en Dehors, a literary adventurer who has wandered into the camp of every party; Sebastian Faure, the father of the Pére Peinard and author of Le Manchinisme et ses Conséquences; Bernard Lazare, Octave Mirbeau, François Guy, author of Les Préjugés et l'Anarchie (Béziers, 1888); Emil Darnaud, author of La Société Future (1890), Mendiants et Vagabonds, une Revolution é Foix, and others. The programme of these men is almost without exception that of Kropotkin, which they water down and popularise in numerous newspaper articles and pamphlets. Some of them, like Faure and Duprat, are decidedly men of action; others, like Saurin and Mirbeau, condemn bombs as the most sanguinary of all forms of authority.
France does not to-day possess any representatives of individualist Anarchism. An isolated adherent of the Anarchist Collectivism of Proudhon is Adolphe Bonthons, for some time business manager of an Anarchist paper in Lyons, showing himself an eager Collectivist and opponent of rent and profit in many writings (e. g., Menace é la Bourgeoisie, Lyons, 1882, and La Répartition des Produits du Travail, 1881; of Garin, Die Anarchisten, p. 94), and demanding quite in the style of the Anarchist agitator the absolute abolition of all authority. To-day Bonthons is quite behind the times, and does not himself regard himself as an Anarchist.
Finally, we note as eager defenders of Anarchist Communism the Italians Carlo Cafiero, the former friend of Bakunin, who devoted the whole of his great wealth to the Anarchist cause; Merlino, and Malatesta13 — all of them men of action of the most reckless character, who have become acquainted with the prisons of many lands, and still wander through life as homeless revolutionaries.
1See his life in Stepniak, u. s., pp. 90-101.
2He was living in Kent in 1897.—Trans.
3The chief work of Kropotkin is La Conquête du Pain, Paris, 1892. (The chapter on agriculture was printed separately as a pamphlet in 1892.) We quote below his numerous smaller writings in the editions which we possess, without vouching for the chronological order or completeness of the list. Les Paroles d'un Révolté, 1885; Revolutionary Governments (trans. from German to French, Anarchist Library, vol. i.); Un Siècle d'Attente, 1789-1889, Paris, 1893; La Grande Révolution, Paris, 1893; Les Temps Nouveaux (conference at London), Paris, 1894; Jeunes Gens, 4th ed., Paris, '93; La Loi et l'Autorité, 6th ed., Paris, '92; Les Prisons, 2d ed., Paris, '90; L'Anarchie dans l'Évolution Socialiste, 2d ed., Paris, '92; Esprit de Révolte, Paris, '92, 5th ed.; le Salariat, 2d ed., Paris, '92; La Morale Anarchiste, 1890; "Anarchist Communion: its Basis and Principles" (republished by permission of the editor of the Nineteenth Century), London, 1887.
4L'Anarchie, p. 26.
5 At the Peace Congress at Bern in 1869, Bakunin defended himself against the reproach of Communist tendencies, saying: "I abominate Communism, because it is a denial of freedom, and I cannot understand anything human without freedom. I am no Communist, because Communism concentrates all the forces of society in the State, and lets them be absorbed by it, because it necessarily results in the centralisation of property in the hands of the State; whereas I wish to do away with the State, to utterly root out the principle of the authority and guardianship of the State, which, under the pretence of improving and idealising men, has hitherto enslaved, oppressed, exploited, and ruined them. I wish for the organisation of society and of collective and social property from below upwards, by means of free association, and not from above downwards by means of authority, be it what it may. In demanding the abolition of the State, I mean to abolish the inheritance of property by an individual, i. e., of property that is only a matter of the State's arrangement, and is only a consequence of the principle of the State itself. In this sense I am a Collectivist and by no means a Communist."
6 In Anarchy, p. 13.
7 Les Temps Nouveaux, p. 21.
8 Quoted in Ratzel's F. Völkerkunde, vol. ii., p. 668. Leipsic and Vienna, 1890.
9Cf. Wolkenhauer, Elisée Reclus (Globus, vol. lxv., No. 8, Feb., 1894). Reclus's Anarchist writings are: Produit de la Terre et de l'Industrie, 1885; Richesse et Misère; Évolution et Révolution, 6th ed., Paris, 1891; and À mon Frère le Paysan, Geneva, 1894.
10 This is seen, inter alia, by the number of persons wandering about seeking food—"a vagabond proletariat." In 1886 no less than 4,951,000 were wandering more than thirty versts from their dwellings. Even the women have to leave the villages to seek support elsewhere, and the number of women and children who thus are compelled to seek work at a distance is increasing every year. Thus, e. g., in the district of the Government of Wjatka, in 1874, 2.68 per cent.; in 1883, 6.46 per cent.; in 1885, 7.22 per cent. of the women capable of work did this. Often whole families wander about, and women with children at the breast are no uncommon sight among the troops of wandering workmen. (Westländer, A., Russland vor einem Regime-Wechsel, Stuttgart, 1894, p. 28.)
11 Her books, Le Livre de Misères and Prise de Possession, were not procurable by me, and I had to depend upon Ossip Zetkin's sketch of her in Charakterköpfen aus der französischen Arbeiterbewegung, pp. 40-48, Berlin, 1893, and the Volkslexikon, l. c.
12 Cf. F. Dubois, Le Péril Anarchiste, pp. 93-120; mostly superficial, but good on this topic.
13 I have only seen Malatesta's dialogue Between Peasants in a French translation: Entre Paysans, Traduit de l'Italien, 6th ed., Paris, 1892.