Page 12 Centennial Tribute to Kropotkin
In conversation with friends on such topics as the First International of the Russian Revolutionary movement, Kropotkin used harsh terms in regard to Marx, and spoke still more harshly of Engels. As he saw it, Engels exercised the worst influence upon
Unfortunately, very little written evidence of Kropotkin's criticism has been brought out into the open- very few of his observations on the nature and trend of MArx's contribution to revolutionary thought. Of still greater importance, therefore, is it to explore the extant traces of Kropotkin's ideas which throw some light upon an issue so controversial and yet so relevant to any serious socio-philosophical discussion of our own times and the years to come.
The most revealing document, virtually unknown to the great mass of Peter Kropotkin's followers and friends, is a letter of his, written to a life-long friend James Guillaume (1844-1916) and made public, not so long ago, by that indefatigable historian of the Libertarian Movement in the 19th century, Dr Max Nettlau.
Guillame, born in London as a son of a Swiss of French origin, became active in the Swiss revolutionary movement, particularly in the Jura revolutionary group (Federation Romande, 1869-1878), in which Peter Kropotkin also took part, as is well known to all who are familiar with his immortal "Memoirs of a Revolutionist". Under Bakunin's influence, Guillaume abandoned his early ideals of the development of individual perfection and turned to the development of mass consciousness and solidarity as a means toward social revolution. He was one of Bakunin's chief supporters of the anti-authoritarian group in the International and followed him in the split with the Marxists.
The letter to Guillaume was written by Kropotkin in November, 1903, (it appears in Nettlau's Russian collection under No. 71) and may be considered a reply to Guillaume's disparaging remarks about peculiar Jewish traits playing a part in the formation of Marxian doctrines and, in addition, exerting a baleful influence on the social-democratic movement, so frequently led by persons of Jewish origin. Referring to these accusations, Kropotkin writes as follows:
"To my mind, dear friend, you are carried too far away when you come to speak about the Jews. Oh, I wish you were acquainted with our Jew- the anarchists of Whitechapel and New York! Among them you will find so many splendid individuals, just as our old Jura friends and- so perfect a devotion! Just these comrades of ours are fit to carry libertarianism back to Russia- our publications, our ideas, our periodical (Bread and Freedom, published at the time in Russian in Geneva). Splendid comrades they are indeed!
Truth to tell, Jewish mentality does display a peculiar fondness for building up systems. It is dialectical, just as is the case with so many other peoples that hail from the Orient. And for that reason, mainly, they take national pride in such thinkers as Marx and Lassalle. System- this, I think, is a thing most essential to the mind of Jews. Besides, they, who have been for so many years persecuted and oppressed, are naturally most appreciative of the fact that socialism opens the door to them, with no regard whatsoever to race differences. They seem to be firmly convinced, for that matter, that the words (concerning justice and equality to all, with no distinction as between creed or nationality, etc.) in the Constitution of the First International have been written by none other than Marx himself.
No, my dear friend, race has nothing to do with the matter. Social-democrats are, and always will be, recruited from all those who are bent upon avoiding taking risks, while at the same time being by far too ambitious to abstain from playing any political part in communal life. Just think of all those who have forsaken us (the Libertarian Movement) in order to join the opposite camp. Have they not been, all of them, just ambitious and vainglorious individuals, first of all!
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