Kropotkin’s ‘Anarchist Communism’

As I discussed in another article, Peter Kropotkin used essays that he transcribed into pamphlets as a means to extend his voice. One of many points of view extended through these writings was his ideas on government, or lack thereof.

 

In a collection of his writings compiled by Roger N. Baldwin, we find Kropotkin’s work entitled, “Anarchist Communism”. In this piece, Kropotkin lays bear his definition of “anarchist” in a manner to dispell misunderstandings as well as opponents of such ideology. He writes:

 

As to the method followed by the anarchist thinker, it entirely differs from that followed by the utopists. The anarchist thinker does not resort to metaphysical conceptions (like “natural rights,” the “duties fo the State,” and so on) to establish what are, in his opinion, the best conditions for realizing the greatest happiness of humanity. He follows, on the contrary, the course traced by the modern philosophy of evolution. He studies human society as it is now and was in the past; and without either endowing humanity as a whole, or separate individuals, with superior qualities which they do not possess, he merely considers society as an aggregation of organisms trying to find out the best ways of combining the wants of the individual with those of cooperation for the welfare of the species. He studies society and tries to discover its tendencies, past and present, its growing needs, intellectual and economic, and in his ideal he merely points out in which direction evolution goes. He distinguishes between the real wants and tendencies of human aggregations and the accidents (wants of knowledge, migrations, wars, conquests) which have prevented these tendencies from being satisfied. And he concludes that the two most prominent, although often unconscious, tendencies throughout our history have been: first, a tendency towards integrating labor for the production of all riches in common, so as finally to render it impossible to discriminate the part of the common production due to the separate individual; and second, a tendency towards the fullest freedom of the individual in the prosecution of all aims, beneficial both for himself and for society at large. The ideal of the anarchist is thus a mere summing-up of what he considers to be the next phase of evolution. It is no longer a matter fo faith; it is a matter for scientific discussion.

“Kropotkin’s Revolutionary Pamphlets: A Collection Of Writings By Peter Kropotkin”, Edited By Roger N. Baldwin, pg 47

 

In defending his stance for anarchist measures, or non-government, he reminds readers of how ineffective reform projects and policies were during his time:

 

Much hope of improvement was placed, of course, in the extension of political rights to the working classes. But these concessions, unsupported as they were by corresponding changes in economic relations, proved delusions. They did not materially improve the conditions of the great bulk of the workmen. Therefore, the watchword of socialism is: “Economic freedom as the only secure basis for political freedom.”

Government has been submitted to the same criticism as capital.

pg. 49

 

Continuing his attack on pro-government sentiment, he aims at blind tradition while addressing flaws of state apparatus, when he pens:

The origins of government have been carefully studied, and all metaphysical conceptions as to its divine or “social contract” derivation having been laid aside, it appears that it is among us of a relatively modern origin, and that its powers have grown precisely in proportion as the division of society into the privileged and unprivileged classes was growing in the course of ages. Representative government has also been reduced to its real value–that of an instrument which has rendered services in the struggle against autocracy, but not an ideal of free political organization.

pg 51

 

Further in this essay, he picks up his chastisement of reform thinkers of his time. It should be noted just how similar these types of politically uninspired persons where to their modern day counterparts:

…the anarchist says to the political reformer: “No substantial reform in the sense of political equality and no limitation of the powers fo government can be made as long as society is divided into two hostile camps, and the laborer remains, economically speaking, a slave to his employer.” But to the state socialist we say also: “You cannot modify at the same time the political organization. You must limit the powers of government and renounce parliamentary rule. To each new economic phase of life corresponds a new political phase. Absolute monarchy corresponded to the system of serfdom. Representative government corresponds to capital-rule. Both, however, are class-rule. But in a society where the distinction between capitalist and laborer has disappeared, there is no need of such a government; it would be an anachronism, a nuisance. Free workers would require a free organization, and this cannot have any other basis than free agreement and free cooperation, without sacrificing the autonomy of the individual to the all-pervading interference of the State. The no-capitalist system implies the no-government system.”

pg. 52

 

While this essay will need a few articles for proper treatment, I will close with Kropotkin addressing opponents and those ignorant of his ideas of anarchism when they question him about morality in a society without a government:

…in the long run of the struggle for existence, “the fittest” will prove to be those who combine intellectual knowledge with the knowledge necessary for the production of wealth, and not those who are now the richest because they, or their ancestors, have been momentarily the strongest.

 

By showing that the “struggle for existence” must be conceived not merely in its restricted sense of a struggle between individuals for the means of subsistence but in its wider sense of adaptation of all individuals of the species to the best conditions for the survival of the species, as well as for the greatest possible sum of life and happiness for each and all, is has permitted us to deduce the laws of moral science from the social needs and habits of mankind. It has shown us the infinitesimal part played by positive law in moral evolution, and the immense part played by the natural growth of altruistic feelings which develop as soon as the conditions of life favor their growth. It has thus enforced the opinion of social reformers as to the necessity of modifying the conditions fo life for improving man, instead of trying to improve human nature by moral teachings while life works in an opposite direction. Finally, by studying human society from the biological point of view, it has come to the conclusions arrived at by anarchists from the study of history and present tendencies as to further progress being in the line of socialization of wealth and integrated labor combined with the fullest possible freedom of the individual.

It has happened in the long run of ages that everything which permits men to increase their production, or even to continue it, has been appropriated by the few.

pg. 53

 

And finally, the injustice of our partition of wealth exercises the most deplorable effect on our morality. Our principles of morality say: “Love your neighbour as yourself”; but let a child follow this principle and take off his coat to give it to the shivering pauper, and his mother will tell him that he must never understand moral principles in their direct sense. If he lives according to them, he will go barefoot, without alleviating the misery around him! Morality is good on the lips, not in deeds. Our preachers say, “Who works, prays,” and everyone endeavors to make others work for him. They say, “Never lie!” and politics are a big lie. And we accustom ourselves and our children to live under this double-faced morality, which is hypocrisy, and to conciliate our double-facedness by sophistry. Hypocrisy and sophistry become the very basis of our life. But society cannot live under such a morality. It cannot last so: it must, it will, be changed.

pg. 56

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