Remembering a rebel: Peter Kropotkin

Educated men — “civilized,” as Fourier used to say with disdain — tremble at the idea that society might some day be without judges, police, or jailers. But, frankly, do you need them as much as you have been told in musty books? Books written, be it noted, by scientists who generally know well what has been written before them, but, for the most part, absolutely ignore the people and their everyday life. If we can wander, without fear, not only in the streets of Paris, which bristle with police, but especially in rustic walks where you rarely meet passers by, is it to the police that we owe this security? Or rather to the absence of people who care to rob or murder us? I am evidently not speaking of the one who carries millions about him. That one — a recent trial tells us — is soon robbed, by preference in places where there are as many policemen as lamp posts. No, I speak of the man who fears for his life and not for his purse filled with ill-gotten sovereigns. Are his fears real? Besides, has not experience demonstrated quite recently that Jack the Ripper performed his exploits under the eye of the London police-a most active force-and that he only left off killing when the population of Whitechapel itself began to give chase to him? And in our everyday relations with our fellow citizens, do you think that it is really judges, jailers, and police that hinder anti-social acts from multiplying? The judge, ever ferocious, because he is a maniac of law, the accuser, the informer, the police spy, all those interlopers that live from hand to mouth around the Law Courts, do they not scatter demoralization far and wide into society? Read the trials, glance behind the scenes, push your analysis further than the exterior facade of law courts, and you will come out sickened. Have not prisons — which kill all will and force of character in man, which enclose within their walls more vices than are met with on any other spot of the globe — always been universities of crime? Is not the court of a tribunal a school of ferocity? And so on. When we ask for the abolition of the State and its organs we are always told that we dream of a society composed of men better than they are in reality. But no; a thousand times, no. All we ask is that men should not be made worse than they are, by such institutions!

Peter Kropotkin, Anarchism: Its philosophy and ideal (1898)

On the centenary of Peter Kropotkin’s death (February 8), we share two texts by Ruth Kinna, the first published online by Freedom News and the second, an abridged version of Ruth Kinna’s foreword to Kropotkin’s “Mutual Aid: An Illuminated Factor of Evolution” (PM Press, 2021) published online by Roarmag, along with a selection from Kropotkin’s essay, “Anarchism: its philosophy and ideal” (Anarchist Library).

100 years on, Kropotkin remains strikingly modern

Freedom News, February 8, 2021

The centenary of Kropotkin’s death is a good time to return to the question he asked in Freedom in 1886: what must we do? Ruth Kinna considers a thinker whose work evolved through a rapidly changing political and social era but never lost its humanity and faith in the possibility of real change.

Kropotkin’s different answers were informed by his changing assessments of the political situation in Europe. In the 1870s he described it as “revolutionary”. Ten years later, his terminology had changed: he spoke instead of evolutionary processes and mutual aid. Yet it’s not obvious that this shift signalled a major reduction of his political ambitions. Evolution still pointed to “the coming anarchy”, a revolutionary proposition in most people’s minds.

Kropotkin usually wrote about anarchist transformation as if the glass were half full. He highlighted social and economic trends that could bolster confidence in anarchist change. But he tempered his “utopianism” with a healthy dose of realism. The mass of data he used to show the imminence of anarchy in fact also attested to the rude health of the state-regulated market system should it continue to grow unhindered. The gist of Kropotkin’s thinking about social transformation was that the potential for anarchy was not the same as its likelihood.

The contours of Kropotkin’s alternative future are well known. To counteract urbanisation and the development of agri-business he envisaged the integration of agriculture and industry and the creation of what economists now call “10-minute neighbourhoods”. His alternative globalisation prioritised information-sharing over international trade and envisaged communist decentralised federation to oppose government monopoly and corporate conglomeration. The plan may have looked speculative, but Kropotkin’s aim was to boost practical organisational efforts and disrupt existing socio-economic arrangements.

For Kropotkin, the entrenchment of liberalism was a bleak prospect. He anticipated that the internationalisation of laissez-faire would lock trading partners into competition for scarce resources and economic advantage. Free trade pointed to the militarisation of the inter-state system, capital investment in war and government sponsorship of industrialised arms production. The uneven, colonising patterns of exchange that shaped economic activity across the globe would simultaneously incentivise opposition to European domination and encourage migratory movements from poorer to richer regions. These pressures were likely to intensify as processes of global warming (which Kropotkin did not link to human activity) affected production and distribution. Sooner or later liberalism would embrace social democracy. Once liberals tapped into the idea of socialism’s historic march, the notion of class struggle could be easily neutralised by welfarism. Gas-and-water socialism would command workers’ loyalty.

Kropotkin’s hopes about the anarchisation of social and economic life were dashed and he was proved broadly right about liberalism’s direction of travel. He warned that the democratisation of western states would dampen the appetite for internationalism along the lines he proposed and instead heighten chauvinistic and xenophobic rivalry. Liberal democracy entailed the professionalisation of politics and the abdication of decision-making power to specialists. But it would be misunderstood as a tremendous redistribution of power and a victory for the working class. Enfranchised, the people would be sovereign just at the point when they surrendered their individual sovereignty. Equality would bestow opportunity and entitlement. Kropotkin predicted the broad lines of liberalism’s socialisation though he did not live to see the consequences: homes fit for heroes, free universal education and cradle-to-grave health services. Citizens would seek every protection to maintain their advantages against “foreigners”. The idea that society could ever function co-operatively and independently of the state would seem fantastical.

Kropotkin’s world was not so different from the one we inhabit. It is a misunderstanding to consign his conception of social transformation to some distant past where the barriers to anarchist change were less formidable than they are now. Some of his immediate priorities – to resist the seductions of representative government and state socialism – were contingent on the support anarchists could garner for their cause at the time. Their actual realisation hardly diminishes the force of his critique. Kropotkin sensed the possible eclipse of anarchism in Europe and witnessed the collapse of his dreams in Russia. Regardless, he continued to promote anarchist politics to the end. As is well known, he believed that anarchy was always discoverable in the nooks and crannies of the state and always recoverable as an alternative social order. Mutual aid was one of the lynchpins of his anarchism. He also gave us fruitful concepts of free agreement, the spirit of revolt and well-being for all.

Mutual aid is sometimes linked to a narrow set of activities. But Kropotkin did not set limits on types of direct action and was not prescriptive about what ventures people should pursue, as long as these were driven by considerations of justice.

What, then, must we do? Kropotkin gave his answer: Act for yourselves!

Mutual aid: Kropotkin’s theory of human capacity

Roarmag, February 8, 2021

Kropotkin’s theory of mutual aid remains cogent as ever, demonstrating the capacity for revolutionary change even in the harshest, most repressive environments.

In March 1889 Peter Kropotkin agreed to give six lectures to William Morris’s Socialist Society in Hammersmith, London. Labeling the series “Social Evolution,” he planned to explore “the grounds” of socialism. As it turned out, he never delivered the talks, but the title and timing, just a year before he published his first essay on mutual aid, hint at the content. He left a bigger clue when he told Morris’s daughter May that he had been working on the series during his recent tour of Scotland. According to local press reports, one of the issues on Kropotkin’s mind was the feasibility of socialism. Perhaps rashly, given that one critic had dismissed his socialism as a futile, dangerous scheme to “reach Arcady through anarchy,” he told an Aberdeen meeting that too many workers attracted to socialism still believed it impractical. The account of social evolution he outlined in Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution, was a response to this skepticism and it has since become his most celebrated refutation.

The concept of mutual aid is outlined in eight essays. The first, “Mutual Aid Among Animals” was published in 1890 in the journal The Nineteenth Century. By 1896, Kropotkin had completed the others. The resulting book was published in 1902, but Kropotkin continued to develop the concept, notably in Anarchism: Its Philosophy and Ideal (1897), The State: Its Historic Role (1898), and Modern Science and Anarchism (1912). Some 30 years after starting his investigations, he issued his final, incomplete statement, which was posthumously published as, Ethics, Origin and Development (1924).

Each new iteration brought out a different facet of the concept: the repressive character of the modern European state; the impulses driving exemplary behaviors; the basis of moral action; the principle of justice that morality described and, last not least, the structural mechanisms for its acculturation. The common thread tying these strands together was Kropotkin’s view that socialism tapped an innate tendency to co-operate common to all living things. Socialism was neither the utopists’ candy mountain nor the salvationists’ pie in the sky. It was a potential alternative.

The thrust of Kropotkin’s argument was that existing disciplinary, exploitative orders had institutionalized competition and individual struggle, wrongly presenting this behavior as natural. Against this, the theory of mutual aid demonstrated that there was nothing inevitable, preordained, much less moral or good about these arrangements. Nature was plastic and therefore malleable to forces capable of building convivial, libertarian social systems.

Mutual Aid lends itself to multiple interpretations. This is partly because Kropotkin theorized it by intervening in a long-standing debate about the social and ethical implications of Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species. In doing so, he enthusiastically adopted Victorian interdisciplinary conventions, reading across the arts and sciences to marshal evidence from zoology, history, art and newer disciplines, notably sociology, ethnography and anthropology, which were equally multifaceted. Ironically, since Kropotkin decried specialization, the synthetic quality of Mutual Aid has since enabled teams of scholars in the humanities and natural and social sciences to bring their special disciplinary perspectives to bear on it.

Since the publication of Daniel P. Todes’s pivotal essay in 1987, Mutual Aid is now commonly situated in a broader body of Russian evolutionary thought. But the diversity of the literature on it and the range of its conceptual resonances is vast. In the other part, Kropotkin developed critical Russian evolutionary biology to show how his account of Darwinian theory exposed the flaws in competing belief systems. Kropotkin believed the principle of mutual aid scotched Christian moralizing, utilitarianism, Marxist materialism and Nietzschean individualism. His naturalistic, “scientific” defense of anarchism thus lends itself to comparison with all these standpoints, while also nourishing critics interested in uncovering anarchism’s essentialist errors.

Evolution and revolution

Revolutionary change was the natural counterpart to Kropotkin’s evolutionary social theory. Kropotkin’s proposals, outlined in The Conquest of Bread and FieldsFactories and Workshops, were to descale and federate. He imagined the commune as the basic social unit with a new political economy of needs based on the abolition of labor divisions, wage systems and international trade supported by the integration of agriculture and industry in localities. Mutual aid was the means and the object of this transformation. Anarchist communism was a model for “consensus” which required co-operation to bring it into being.

In the last two chapters of Mutual Aid, Kropotkin highlighted examples of co-operative practice to demonstrate that the capacity for change endured even in the harshest, most repressive environments. Some of these demonstrate the pervasiveness of the “psychology” of mutual aid, the irresistible feeling “nurtured by thousands of years of human social life and hundreds of thousands of years of pre-human life in societies”. Typically, it is expressed through acts of solidarity and sacrifice. For Kropotkin, it explained the motivations of volunteers in the British Lifeboat Association, who risked their lives at sea to save others from drowning. The same psychology drove Welsh miners to enter collapsed mine shafts for the sake of fellow-worker buried under tons of coal.

Other examples of co-operative practice, by far the majority, point to the importance of the organizational aspects of co-operation. Having described the dismal collapse of the city-states and its disastrous consequences, Kropotkin argued that there were significant holes in the state’s armor. The state exercised an increasingly tight grip on corporations, co-operative societies and associations that once flourished independently of it, but this was far from complete. Even in Europe, Kropotkin was pleased to discover that village community continued to exist. Europe was “covered with living survivals … and European country life is permeated with customs and habits dating from the community period”.

Mutual aid “customs and habits” animated he “inner life” of Turkish villages and, likewise, “in the Arab djemmâa and the Afgan purra, in the villages of Persia, India, and Java, in the undivided family of the Chinese, in the encampments of the semi-nomads of Central Asia and the nomads of the far North”. In colonized Africa, too, “notwithstanding all tyranny, oppression, robberies and raids, tribal wars, glutton kings, deceiving witches and priests, slave-hunters, and the like” the “nucleus of mutual-aid institutions, habits and customs, growing up in the tribe and the village community, remains.” Colonized peoples did not require preparation for self-government. They did not need the chiefs who had been empowered by colonizers to rule them or the rising class of local educated elites who sought to oust both to implement direct rule.

Kropotkin was similarly enthused by the new forms of co-operation and mutual aid vested in a plethora of cultural associations and, especially, socialist organizations and actions: syndicates, trade unions, strikes, political movements, newspapers. Some of these were outgrowths of traditional guilds or, in Russia artisan artéls and others were entirely modern manifestations of co-operation and solidarity, created to resist domination and exploitation.

Revolution entailed protecting, nurturing and extending these multifarious mutual aid organizations to facilitate the habitual expression of the psychology. As a global exercise, the project inescapably heightened diversity. In this respect, Kropotkin was neither a traditionalist nor a modernist. The co-operative associations contained within the naturalistic, self-regulating, ethical anarchy he conceptualized were complex, distinctive and adapted to their local environments. The practice of mutual aid bound them together, promising, too, to transform the “European” aspiration for international solidarity into a reality. Kropotkin’s message was that the only route to revolutionary change was the extension of the principle of self-government, not the spread of ideology or adherence to party program.

In Mutual Aid Kropotkin used his “anarchized” evolutionary theory to attack advocates of state order or “subordination.” While this included laissez-faire liberals and conservatives of all stripes, he promoted his concept of revolution to highlight the shortcomings of currents within socialist and anarchist movements. In the 1870s Michael Bakunin had identified republicans and Marxists as advocates of political theology, as antagonistic to anarchy as any absolutist or cleric. Kropotkin followed suit but identified Nietzscheans and Marxists and the leading advocates of competition and “subordination” liable to derail the socialist cause from within.

The problem with Nietzscheanism turned principally on the promotion of the concept of autonomy at odds with the psychology of mutual aid, though it also had an organizational aspect. For Kropotkin, Nietzscheans were individualists who followed bourgeois norms rather than anarchist principles of co-operation. Not only did they fail to understand the organizational dimensions of social transformation, they undermined the cohesion of the workers’ associations. In doing so, they destroyed grassroots initiatives to consider economic, political and moral questions “precursory” to revolutionary transformation, Kropotkin argued in his 1889 lecture “Socialism: Its Modern Tendencies.”

Writing to Alexander Berkman in 1908, he remarked, “[i]t is the Masses which make the Revolutions – not the Individuals”. Observing that European workers’ had “abandoned” groups after they had been “invaded by all sorts of middle class tramps,” he added, “even the really revolutionary minded individuals, if they remain isolated, turn towards this Individualist Anarchism of the bourgeois which is nothing but the epicurean let it go of the Economists, spiced with a few ‘terrific’ phrases of Nihilism.” This was “food to frighten the Philistines” and best left to “the Nietzsche’ists … Bernard Shaw’ists, and all the similar arch-Philistine‘ists’.”

If the Nietzscheans’ lofty dismissal of organization endangered the spread of mutual aid, the imposition of a singular model was at least as dangerous to the prospects of co-operation. This was the threat that Kropotkin believed came from Marxism. Writing only a year after the publication of the book, Kropotkin explained to Guillaume that the significance of the Mutual Aid was twofold: it challenged the faulty premises of the Social Darwinist thesis of competition and it demonstrated the tyrannous implications of the Marxist theory of history. The priority Marx attached to the development of productive forces as the prerequisite for socialist transformation implied the extension of the competitive model, not its abolition. Kropotkin told Guillaume, “their metaphysics is authoritarian.”

However elaborately Marxists conceptualized the state, their theory of socialist transformation was predicated on the destruction of traditional communal and co-operative associations. Russia was uppermost in Kropotkin’s mind when he wrote to Guillaume, but the implications of his analysis were more far-reaching. Marxism pointed to the abolition of mutual aid societies, if not before the socialist seizure of power, then as soon as programs of collectivization were set in motion. The abolition of village communes would reduce millions of rural workers to absolute misery and destroy their institutions to boot. A resurgent spirit of domination would suppress the psychology of mutual aid. Revolution on the Marxist models was not the same as social revolution organized “from the bottom up.”

The theory of mutual aid is sometimes represented as an overly optimistic depiction of human capability. At worst, the accusation is that Kropotkin presented an account of human goodness that reality explodes. Mutual aid is not a thesis about human nature. It is a theory about the capacity of humans to shape their environments and be molded by them. Kropotkin lived to see his worst fears about socialism realized.

But not even that setback has smothered the capacity for mutual aid or the willingness of local associations actively to embrace it. Mutual aid is most visible in times of crisis when states are unable or unwilling to act. Kropotkin’s call was to institutionalize those efforts and follow the intuitive appeal of the idea: co-operation is not about mutual benefit or mutual assurance or mutual destruction. It is about offering help when people need it, without requiring anything in return.

Peter Kropotkin’s Mutual Aid: An Illuminated Factor of Evolution, with an introduction by David Graeber & Andrej Grubacic, foreword by Ruth Kinna, preface by GATS and afterword by Allan Antliff is coming out this May from PM Press.

Ruth Kinna is a member of the Anarchism Research Group at Loughborough University, UK. She is author of Kropotkin: Reviewing the Classical Anarchist Tradition (2016) and The Government of No One (2019).

From Anarchism: its philosophy and ideal

Kropotkin (1898)

It is often said that Anarchists live in a world of dreams to come, and do not see the things which happen today. We do see them only too well, and in their true colors, and that is what makes us carry the hatchet into the forest of prejudice that besets us.

Far from living in a world of visions and imagining men better than they are, we see them as they are; and that is why we affirm that the best of men is made essentially bad by the exercise of authority, and that the theory of the “balancing of powers” and “control of authorities” is a hypocritical formula, invented by those who have seized power, to make the “sovereign people,” whom they despise, believe that the people themselves are governing. It is because we know men that we say to those who imagine that men would devour one another without those governors: “You reason like the king, who, being sent across the frontier, called out, ‘What will become of my poor subjects without me?'”

Ah, if men were those superior beings that the utopians of authority like to speak to us of, if we could close our eyes to reality, and live, like them, in a world of dreams and illusions as to the superiority of those who think themselves called to power, perhaps we also should do like them; perhaps we also should believe in the virtues of those who govern.

With virtuous masters, what dangers could slavery offer? Do you remember the slave-owner of whom we heard so often, hardly thirty years ago? Was he not supposed to take paternal care of his slaves? “He alone,” we were told, “could hinder these lazy, indolent, improvident children dying of hunger. How could he crush his slaves through hard labor, or mutilate them by blows, when his own interest lay in feeding them well, in taking care of them as much as of his own children! And then, did not ‘the law’ see to it that the least swerving of a slave-owner from the path of duty was punished?” How many times have we not been told so! But the reality was such that, having returned from a voyage to Brazil, Darwin was haunted all his life by the cries of agony of mutilated slaves, by the sobs of moaning women whose fingers were crushed in thumbscrews!

If the gentlemen in power were really so intelligent and so devoted to the public cause, as panegyrists of authority love to represent, what a pretty government and paternal utopia we should be able to construct! The employer would never be the tyrant of the worker; he would be the father! The factory would be a palace of delight, and never would masses of workers be doomed to physical deterioration. The State would not poison its workers by making matches with white phosphorus, for which it is so easy to substitute red phosphorus.[1] A judge would not have the ferocity to condemn the wife and children of the one whom he sends to prison to suffer years of hunger and misery and to die some day of anemia; never would a public prosecutor ask for the head of the accused for the unique pleasure of showing off his oratorical talent; and nowhere would we find a jailer or an executioner to do the bidding of judges, who have not the courage to carry out their sentences themselves. What do I say! We should never have enough Plutarchs to praise the virtues of Members of Parliament who would all hold Panama checks in horror! Biribi[2] would become an austere nursery of virtue, and permanent armies would be the joy of citizens, as soldiers would only take up arms to parade before nursemaids, and to carry nosegays on the point of their bayonets!

Oh, the beautiful utopia, the lovely Christmas dream we can make as soon as we admit that those who govern represent a superior caste, and have hardly any or no knowledge of simple mortals’ weaknesses! It would then suffice to make them control one another in hierarchical fashion, to let them exchange fifty papers, at most, among different administrators, when the wind blows down a tree on the national road. Or, if need be, they would have only to be valued at their proper worth, during elections, by those same masses of mortals which are supposed to be endowed with all stupidity in their mutual relations but become wisdom itself when they have to elect their masters.

All the science of government, imagined by those who govern, is imbibed with these utopias. But we know men too well to dream such dreams. We have not two measures for the virtues of the governed and those of the governors; we know that we ourselves are not without faults and that the best of us would soon be corrupted by the exercise of power. We take men for what they are worth — and that is why we hate the government of man by man, and that we work with all our might — perhaps not strong enough-to put an end to it.

But it is not enough to destroy. We must also know how to build, and it is owing to not having thought about it that the masses have always been led astray in all their revolutions. After having demolished they abandoned the care of reconstruction to the middle class people, who possessed a more or less precise conception of what they wished to realize, and who consequently reconstituted authority to their own advantage.

That is why Anarchy, when it works to destroy authority in all its aspects, when it demands the abrogation of laws and the abolition of the mechanism that serves to impose them, when it refuses all hierarchical organization and preaches free agreement — at the same time strives to maintain and enlarge the precious kernel of social customs without which no human or animal society can exist. Only, instead of demanding that those social customs should be maintained through the authority of a few, it demands it from the continued action of all.

Communist customs and institutions are of absolute necessity for society, not only to solve economic difficulties, but also to maintain and develop social customs that bring men in contact with one another; they must be looked to for establishing such relations between men that the interest of each should be the interest of all; and this alone can unite men instead of dividing them.

In fact, when we ask ourselves by what means a certain moral level can be maintained in a human or animal society, we find only three such means: the repression of anti-social acts; moral teaching; and the practice of mutual help itself. And as all three have already been put to the test of practice, we can judge them by their effects.

As to the impotence of repression — it is sufficiently demonstrated by the disorder of present society and by the necessity of a revolution that we all desire or feel inevitable. In the domain of economy, coercion has led us to industrial servitude; in the domain of politics to the State; that is to say, to the destruction of all ties that formerly existed among citizens, and to the nation, which becomes nothing but an incoherent mass of obedient subjects of a central authority.

Not only has a coercive system contributed and powerfully aided to create all the present economic, political, and social evils, but it has given proof of its absolute impotence to raise the moral level of societies; it has not even been able to maintain it at the level it had already reached. If a benevolent fairy could only reveal to our eyes all the crimes that are committed every day, every minute, in a civilized society, under cover of the unknown, or the protection of law itself — society would shudder at that terrible state of affairs. The authors of the greatest political crimes, like those of Napoleon III’s coup d’état, or the bloody week in May after the fall of the Commune of 1871, never are arraigned.

Practiced for centuries, repression has so badly succeeded that it has but led us into a blind alley from which we can only issue by carrying torch and hatchet into the institutions of our authoritarian past.

Far be it from us not to recognize the importance of the second factor, moral teaching — especially that which is unconsciously transmitted in society and results from the whole of the ideas and comments emitted by each of us on facts and events of everyday life. But this force can only act on society under one condition, that of not being crossed by a mass of contradictory immoral teachings resulting from the practice of institutions.

In that case, its influence is nil or baneful. Take Christian morality: what other teaching could have had more hold on minds than that spoken in the name of a crucified God, and could have acted with all its mystical force, all its poetry of martyrdom, its grandeur in forgiving executioners? And yet the institution was more powerful than the religion. Soon Christianity — a revolt against imperial Rome was conquered by that same Rome; it accepted its maxims, customs, and language. The Christian church accepted the Roman law as its own, and as such — allied to the State — it became in history the most furious enemy of all semi-communist institutions, to which Christianity appealed at its origin.

Can we for a moment believe that moral teaching, patronized by circulars from ministers of public instruction, would have the creative force that Christianity has not had? And what could the verbal teaching of truly social men do, if it were counteracted by the whole teaching derived from, institutions based, as our present institutions of property and State are, upon unsocial principles?

The third element alone remains — the institution itself, acting in such a way as to make social acts a state of habit and instinct. This element — history proves it — has never missed its aim, never has it acted as a double-bladed sword; and its influence has only been weakened when custom strove to become immovable, crystallized to become in its turn a religion not to be questioned when it endeavored to absorb the individual, taking all freedom of action from him and compelling him to revolt against that which had become, through its crystallization, an enemy to progress.

In fact, all that was an element of progress in the past or an instrument of moral and intellectual improvement of the human race is due to the practice of mutual aid, to the customs that recognized the equality of men and brought them to ally, to unite, to associate for the purpose of producing and consuming, to unite for purposes of defense, to federate and to recognize no other judges in fighting out their differences than the arbitrators they took from their own midst.

Each time these institutions, issued from popular genius, when it had reconquered its liberty for a moment, each time these institutions developed in a new direction, the moral level of society, its material well-being, its liberty, its intellectual progress, and the affirmation of individual originality made a step in advance. And, on the contrary, each time that in the course of history, whether following upon a foreign conquest, or whether by developing authoritarian prejudices, men become more and more divided into governors and governed, exploiters and exploited, the moral level fell, the well-being of the masses decreased in order to insure riches to a few, and the spirit of the age declined.

History teaches us this, and from this lesson we have learned to have confidence in free communist institutions to raise the moral level of societies, debased by the practice of authority.

Today we live side by side without knowing one another. We come together at meetings on an election day: we listen to the lying or fanciful professions of faith of a candidate, and we return home. The State has the care of all questions of public interest; the State alone has the function of seeing that we do not harm the interests of our neighbor, and, if it fails in this, of punishing us in order to repair the evil.

Our neighbor may die of hunger or murder his children, it is no business of ours; it is the business of the policeman. You hardly know one another, nothing unites you, everything tends to alienate you from one another, and finding no better way, you ask the Almighty (formerly it was a God, now it is the State) to do all that lies within his power to stop anti-social passions from reaching their highest climax.

In a communist society such estrangement, such confidence in an outside force, could not exist. Communist organizations cannot be left to be constructed by legislative bodies called parliaments, municipal or communal councils. It must be the work of all, a natural growth, a product of the constructive genius of the great mass. Communism cannot be imposed from above; it could not live even for a few months if the constant and daily cooperation of all did not uphold it. It must be free.

It cannot exist without creating a continual contact between all for the thousands and thousands of common transactions; it cannot exist without creating local life, independent in the smallest unities, the block of houses, the street, the district, the commune. It would not answer its purpose if it did not cover society with a network of thousands of associations to satisfy its thousand needs: the necessaries of life, articles of luxury, of study, enjoyment, amusements. And such associations cannot remain narrow and local; they must necessarily tend (as is already the case with learned societies, cyclist clubs, humanitarian societies and the like) to become international.

And the sociable customs that communism — were it only partial at its origin-must inevitably engender in life, would already be a force incomparably more powerful to maintain and develop the kernel of sociable customs than all repressive machinery.

This, then, is the form — sociable institution — of which we ask the development of the spirit of harmony that church and State had undertaken to impose on us — with the sad result we know only too well. And these remarks contain our answer to those who affirm that communism and anarchism cannot go together. They are, you see, a necessary complement to one another. The most powerful development of individuality, of individual originality — as one of our comrades has so well said, — can only be produced when the first needs of food and shelter are satisfied; when the struggle for existence against the forces of nature has been simplified; when man’s time is no longer taken up entirely by the meaner side of daily subsistence — then only, his intelligence, his artistic taste, his inventive spirit, his genius, can develop freely and ever strive to greater achievements.

Communism is the best basis for individual development and freedom; not that individualism which drives man to the war of each against all — this is the only one known up till now, — but that which represents the full expansion of man’s faculties, the superior development of what is original in him, the greatest fruitfulness of intelligence, feeling and will.

Such being our ideal, what does it matter to us that it cannot be realized at once!

Funeral of Peter Kropotkin-1921

The online english language Anarchist Library has a broad collection of Kropotkin’s writings. A tribute to Kropotkin posted today on the anarchist site a las barricadas offers links to various works by him in spanish.

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