Friday, September 21, 2007

Life of an Anarchist

(book review from this months Socialist Standard)

The Anarchist Geographer: An Introduction to the Life of Peter Kropotkin.
Brian Morris. Genge Press, 2007. £8.

This is a short (100 page), readable biography of the anarchist writer Peter Kropotkin. Born a prince in 1842, he became an anti-Tsarist revolutionary for which he was arrested and imprisoned in 1874. Two years later he managed to escape and left Russia, not to return again till the overthrow of the Tsar in March 1917. He died there in 1922.

Before he became a revolutionary he had been involved in original geographical research in Siberia and had been elected a member of the Russian Geological Society. In exile he earned a living as a scientific journalist and writer. Hence the title of Morris's book. One series of his scientific writings was later published as Mutual Aid: A Factor in Evolution, which became a socialist classic, opposing the Social Darwinists who saw the struggle for existence as the only factor.

In the 1870s when Kropotkin first became active in revolutionary and working class politics in the West in Switzerland almost all those involved, including those who were later to describe themselves as "anarchists", called themselves "socialists". So did Kropotkin, though he preferred to call himself a "communist" to distinguish himself from those who wanted "from each according to ability, to each according to work done" from those like him who wanted "to each according to needs".

Kropotkin has been accused of (or credited with, if you prefer) creating a distinct (anti-) political philosophy called "anarchism" which embraced anybody who was against "the State", even if they weren't socialists/communists. In fact, this includes vociferous anti-socialists like the followers of Stirner, Thoreau or Tucker (individualist anarchists) or Proudhon (market anarchists).

Quite why Kropotkin felt and why some modern anarchists still feel some sort of affinity with these open anti-socialists is difficult to understand. But then anarchists do make the mistake of seeing the state, rather than capitalism, as the cause of workers' problems, whereas the state is a consequence of economically-divided class societies.

Kropotkin wasn't consistently anti-state anyway. When WW1 broke out he immediately supported France (and Britain) against Germany, on the grounds that the German state was the greater evil.


No comments: