David Morris writes in On the Commons, regarding the anniversary of the death of the Russian Peter Kropotkin, an article: Anarchism Is Not What You Think It Is — And There’s a Whole Lot We Can Learn from It: The word anarchism has been so stripped of substance that it has come to be equated with chaos and nihilism. That’s not what it means:
I am astonished Hollywood has yet to discover Kropotkin. For his life is the stuff of great movies. Born to privilege he spent his life fighting poverty and injustice. A lifelong revolutionary, he was also a world-renowned geographer and zoologist. Indeed, the intersection of politics and science characterized much of his life.
His struggles against tyranny resulted in years in Russian and French jails. The first time he was imprisoned in Russia an outcry by many of the world’s best-known scholars led to his release. The second time he engineered a spectacular escape and fled the country. At the end of his life, back in his native Russia, he enthusiastically supported the overthrow of the Tsar but equally strongly condemned Lenin’s increasingly authoritarian and violent methods.
In the 1920s Roger N. Baldwin summed up Kropotkin this way.
“Kropotkin is referred to by scores of people who knew him in all walks of life as “the noblest man” they ever knew. Oscar Wilde called him one of the two really happy men he had ever met…In the anarchist movement he was held in the deepest affection by thousands–“notre Pierre” the French workers called him. Never assuming position of leadership, he nevertheless led by the moral force of his personality and the breadth of his intellect. He combined in extraordinary measure high qualities of character with a fine mind and passionate social feeling. His life made a deep impression on a great range of classes–the whole scientific world, the Russian revolutionary movement, the radical movements of all schools, and in the literary world which cared little or nothing for science or revolution.”
Kropotkin took on the social Darwinists of the day. As a leading scientist, he countered the often accepted notion that competition is the primary driving force in nature and natural selection. We need spokesmen like this today as the social Darwinists of our day tear at the fabric of society with the destructive notions that inequality and concentrations of wealth are somehow ordained or inevitable. Kropotkin enlightened those of his day on the advantages of cooperation, decentralization, and social cohesion. The evidence from his scientific study showed that these factors drove natural selection. Furthermore, these factors actually enhance not degrade what most people would accept as behaving humanely. Darwinism is one of the nominally understood religions of our day. Unfortunately, Darwin’s groundbreaking work has been co-opted, ironically, by statist forces, who have little interest in the elevation or evolution of humanity.
David Morris’ article is a clarion call for all to learn more or revisit what anarchism means. Anarchism is not about chaos. Anarchism is about order, a humane order. Kropotkin was a leading advocate of how we must relate to one another in order to achieve a humane order. I’ll give my proverbial vote to this leaderless leader!
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