WHAT KROPOTKIN MEANS TO ME
By Walter E Holloway, Author:
"The Rubiyat of Today"
It is a pleasant thing to do to pay tribute to the memory of a man whose life has had a powerful influence upon our own lives and to whom we owe a debt of gratitude for a clearer understanding of the world and of men and their ways than we could otherwise have had. Hence these few words of mine about Kropotkin.
The real significance of a man is to be found, I am sure, in his life — his activities, his accomplishments, what he did or tried earnestly to do — and the key to the understanding of a man's activities is to be found in his beliefs, his fundamental convictions. To be sure, the pattern of no man's life is consistently simple or all of one piece any more than is the pattern of history, the life-story of the human race, but the main outlines of Kropotkin's thoughts and purposes are remarkably clear in his life and in his writings. We radicals and libertarians are too prone, I fear, to lay emphasis upon our differences of opinion rather than upon our agreements. This springs naturally from our very earnestness of purpose and we would do well to remember that we ourselves may be wrong, and that in any event we all learn by mutual exchange of opinion and that out of conflicting opinions comes enlightened understanding. 'We may not always have agreed with Kropotkin's ideas but none of us, I am sure, can fail to appreciate the engaging simplicity of his character and the steadfast singleness of purpose of his long and useful life. We do well to remember him with affection and gratitude on this hundredth anniversary of his birth.
What then were the fundamental convictions of Kropotkin? What were the deep motivations of his activities? What made him live as he did, write what he wrote, and strive throughout his whole life to accomplish what, in his early manhood, he conceived would benefit his fellowmen? Surely, here we have an opportunity to discover the real man — the great and good man who left an indelible mark upon the minds and hearts of his own time and whose influence will extend into the limitless future. Kropotkin believed in the people, the common people who had been disinherited and despoiled all through the ages. He loved them. He had confidence in their potential capacity to learn and in their courage to act upon this knowledge. He really believed they would in time establish a society upon earth in which mankind might live comfortably and happily together. To some of us his confidence may seem too naive, too ingenuous, in the light of the astounding stupidity and subserviousness of mankind, but it is none the less beautiful, and we may still hope that it will yet be justified. Kropotkin was a real democrat. He believed in the intelligence and courage of the common people. We see the same pattern of mentality and sympathy as in Jefferson and Lincoln. It is this identity of mind and heart that makes these great men brothers and will associate them in the minds of men as long as liberty is loved and justice respected.
Understanding this we can see why Kropotkin early in life cast aside the privileges of his princely station to devote himself to the education and emancipation of the common people. To him the REVOLUTION was not merely a revolt against tyranny, a sudden passionate upheaval that would sweep away the accumulated debris of the past and build a new world but rather a process of social change for the better, forced upon the governing class by the common people whose knowledge of men and things was broadening and deepening through education and whose courage was growing through seeing their own growth and accomplishments. Sporadic revolts would come, of course, as the result of misery among the people, but a true revolution never without understanding among the people. How else could a real revolution come? How else could it win and endure? Would the privileged class ever actually abolish tyranny ? Who would abolish it unless the common people did ? What would enable the common people to do this except the ability on their part to understand the facts of exploitation ? Otherwise they would forever be the gullible victims of their oppressors. Hence education! Kropotkin himself understood more clearly than most men of his time and even of this time the profound difference between a bread riot on a little or big scale and a real revolution founded upon an enlightened understand-