‘Anarchism could help to save the world’

  • Posted on: 3 July 2017
  • By: thecollective

From The Guardian by David Priestland

Ed Miliband’s late-night pilgrimage to Russell Brand’s loft apartment, days before the last election, was seen by supporters as a canny bid for the youth vote, and by critics as a cringe-worthy attempt to harness the Shoreditch Messiah’s charisma. Yet neither view captures its real significance as a sign of the profound weakness of mainstream social democracy and its desperate efforts to co-opt the energies of the most dynamic element of today’s left: anarchism. In their eagerness to ridicule Brand’s “ramblings”, commentators have ignored his strong identification with the left-anarchist tradition. For among the works he has recommended to his followers is a collection of writings by another charismatic figure who sometimes lived in London, the father of anarchist communism: Prince Peter Kropotkin.

Comparisons between Kropotkin and Brand may seem strained. Kropotkin’s background as the scion of one of the grandest and most ancient Russian aristocratic families is far removed from Brand’s humbler origins. Kropotkin was a highly educated polymath, while Brand – though undeniably intelligent – has played the part of popular entertainer and motor-mouth wit.

Yet, like Brand, the exiled Kropotkin became a fashionable figure in London, lauded by the late-Victorian artistic and intellectual avant garde – from William Morris to Ford Madox Ford. In a weird prefiguring of the Miliband-Brand wooing, he even received the first Labour Party leader Keir Hardie at his Bromley home. And just as satirical comparisons are made between Brand and the son of God, so Oscar Wilde described Kropotkin as a “beautiful white Christ”.

It is no surprise that anarchist sages and prophets should be so fashionable, both then and now. In Europe before the first world war, those varieties of socialism that placed their faith in state-led social reform – social democracy and Marxism-Leninism – had not yet begun to eclipse their anarchist competitor. But now that era of statist optimism is over, a left reinvigorated by the current crisis of globalised capitalism is searching for alternatives more suited to our individualistic era.

Peter Alexeyevich Kropotkin, born in 1842, came of age in troubled times. Humiliated by his defeat in the Crimean war in 1856, Alexander II set out to reform Russia’s archaic aristocratic order while preserving its fundamentals, and the Kropotkins were stalwarts of the old system. As a youth, Kropotkin trained for the army in Russia’s most elite military academy, and his intellectual distinction even ensured that he was chosen as a page at the tsar’s court. He soon came to despise the status-obsessed cruelties of the ancien regime, identifying not with the nobility but with the peasants who had cared for him as a child.

This alliance of sympathy for the poor with commitment to the life of the mind, especially science, came to define Kropotkin’s career – whether in the service of the tsarist state, or in pursuit of anarchist revolution. Posted to Siberia by the military, he sought to improve the lives of convicts, while also leading pioneering geographical expeditions. And once in exile from Russia (persecuted for his revolutionary activity), he devoted himself to reconciling his deep moral outrage at social inequality with his love of science by developing a coherent anarchist vision – marking him out from his less intellectually ambitious anarchist predecessors, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon and Mikhail Bakunin.

Kropotkin’s synthesis can be found in two of the most important – and readable – texts of anarchism: The Conquest of Bread (1892) and Fields, Factories and Workshops (1899). Society, he argued, could be run along the lines of the peasant communities he saw in Siberia, with their “semi-communistic brotherly organisation”, free of domination by either the state or the market. And this, he insisted, was not mere nostalgia or utopianism, for new technology and modern agriculture would make such decentralised development highly productive. But Kropotkin was mindful, too, of the needs of the environment, an awareness born of his geographical and scientific interests, and he is rightly considered one of the pioneering theorists of Green politics.

He also rooted his anarchism in evolutionary science. Mutual Aid (1902) argued that communities founded on radical equality and participatory democracy were feasible because human nature was innately collaborative. Unlike Social Darwinists such as Herbert Spencer, who argued that all forms of life were driven by a competitive “struggle for existence” between organisms, Kropotkin insisted that another type of struggle was more important – between organisms and the environment. And in this struggle, “mutual aid” was the most effective means of survival.

Between the 1880s and the 1920s, Kropotkin’s communist anarchism competed for influence with a more statist Marxism, and won many converts among intellectuals, peasants and working class communities, especially in southern Europe and the United States (including the “Wobblies” – the Industrial Workers of the World). In Asia, too, anarchism infused the thought of the early Chinese Communist Party, and underpinned the Indian civil disobedience campaigns of Gandhi – though he was closer to Tolstoy’s more religious anarchism.

But the anarchists’ own struggle would be lost, partly because their commitment to democratic participation undercut their capacity to sustain stable mass organisations, and because they were undermined by the violence espoused by some anarchist groups (against Kropotkin’s advice), which provoked ruthless state repression. In the end, though, their fate was sealed by a broader intellectual shift, as the prestige of states rose in the wake of total war – especially in the 1950s and 60s, when both communist east and capitalist west presented rival visions of state-led “progressive modernisation”.

But now states have yet again fallen in popular esteem, damaged by the crisis of Keynesian and communist economics since the 1970s, and by the rise of “60s” values, which prize individual self-expression and personal fulfilment over loyalty to nation states and other centralised institutions.

This individualism is particularly strong among the educated and the young, just as it was among the Bohemians of Victorian England. And it is no surprise that anarchism should have become important again on the left in recent years – from the “anti-globalisers” of the late 1990s, to the 2011 Occupy movement. Indeed Occupy’s principal theorist, David Graeber, is a Kropotkin enthusiast.

Anarchism’s challenges remain much the same as they were in Kropotkin’s day. How can a group so suspicious of established institutions build an effective movement for the long term? How can it win over a majority addicted to endless growth and ever higher living standards? And how can its ideal social order, founded on local participatory democracy, control the enormous concentrations of power in states and international markets?

Yet much has changed to anarchism’s advantage. A more educated society is becoming ever less deferential and possibly less materialistic. Meanwhile, the failures of both state socialism in 1989 and global capitalism in 2008, and their glaring inability to deal with environmental degradation, demand that we question the way we live as never before. Kropotkin is no messiah, but his writings force us to imagine a politics that might just help save the world.

The Conquest of Bread by Peter Kropotkin is published by Penguin Classics.

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Comments

Beautiful. The author doesn't even blush in making a positive comparison between Russell Brand and Krapotkin. And a shout-out to David "the cops in Rojava are the cool kind and Corbyn's a pretty cool guy" Graeber! Doesn't it bring a tear to your eye? You can almost feel the struggle seeping from the screen.

This is the rejuvenation of Krapotkin going to bed with the Fabian socialists! A beautiful historical moment indeed!

I wonder if they are indeed in the process of dumping Marx and marrying Kropotkin. Perhaps Rojava is a first date.

The Fabians were never sympathetic to Marx. I dunno where you took this impression from. Fabian (reformist) socialists were at odds with all revolutionaries during the first Internationals.

The biggest problem with Kropotkin is how he was never completely against collaborating with the State, especially when it comes to its nice, equalitarian liberal facet. That is an issue with Left libertarians that was never enough criticized by anarchists.

Go dig up Stirner's corpse and blow him.

You save yourself.

It follows that when you start to get good at saving yourself, you might even save enough to have an excess which you can redistribute … uh oh! I made ziggy a leftist! Now he'll burst in to flames when he tries to enter his church of stirner! Oh noes! D:

It's about saving your own.

I think Wilde's description was cynical.

as having experience, something world saving ideologues lack.

His opinion of socialism was in the context of an alternative to Victorian Christian values, and there were so many faddish intellectual schools of thought which the 19th century had hatched, he was amused by them but not swayed. He had a pretty good idea of what centuries of Christianity had produced, I'm unsure whether the description of Kropotkin as the new white Jesus was before or after his time in Reading prison when he had been broken and done a flip over from being an atheist to a believer. If only he had the strength to fight on about gayness and not let the moralists defeat him,,,,,sad.

Yeah, world saving has never occured, just the notion of "saving"carries an absurd sense of duty, which is the obvious moral tack wrought with determinist values. Then there's the whole teleological premise which stands on fantastic myths and the spooks which create them. Saving oneself from the misery of defeatism and lowly subservience to fear of the abyss should be the priority.

this is article is from 2015

His recent autobiography was entertaining and informative.
He has definate libertarian anarchist ideas, sentiments,
and expression. He came across to me as sincere and committed .
His wayward background and personal struggles were vividly
discussed. He Remains a figure influential still.
On a lighter note , I felt bad for his break-up with Katy Perry. They could have done much
Good work together. His at times emotional
Instability played havoc on the relationship. He indeed had more than a superficial
Accuaintance with the issues discussed on this site.

.

kropotkin found answers in Lamarck's work on evolution on how mutual aid developed very quickly in times of rapid environmental change. this was later seen as a mistake on kropotkin's part, but lamarck's work has since been proven correct; i.e. epigenetics are in a natural primacy over gene expression.

epigenetic influence is where the situations we find ourselves included in, inductively actualize, orchestrate and shape our behaviours.

mainstream science needs to restructure to acknowledge the natural primacy of epigenetic inductive influence over genetic agency. if hurricane winds are coming in every nook and cranny in the shelter, everyone will rise to the occasion and cover the holes as they break open. mainstream science has only one way to explain this; i.e. 'deliberate cooperation' and thus 'mutual aid' in that 'deliberately cooperative' sense. but the so-called 'new science of epigenetics' is changing all that because it recognizes that environmental dynamics can inductively actualize coordinated behaviours; i.e. it is not that people are deliberately cooperating with one another, in the case of sealing holes in the shelter, it is the environmental conditions that are outside-inwardly [epigenetically] inductively orchestrating their actions.

epigenetic influence is not allowed in the void euclidian space of mainstream science, so regardless of whether the sourcing of mutual aid is inductive/epigenetic, science demands that it be considered assertive/genetic, so out comes the model of the organisms as an 'independently-existing thing-in-themselves with their own genetic agency driving and directing their behaviours', ... all pushing and no pulling.

if you are in a boat that crashes into some rocks and springs 4 separate leaks and in rapid fire, four of the people in the boat, including you, spring into action and plug the leaks, and then someone says to you, 'that was great cooperative action', ... excellent teamwork! you may say, 'what teamwork?' i saw a leak and i plugged it. the other three may say the same.

so where's the 'cooperation'? it is not there. there is none. there is only anarchism. what needed to be done was specified by the changing habitat and the inhabitants 'rose to the occasion' as in inhabitant-habitat nonduality; i.e. their behaviours were inductively actualized.

This is what Kropotkin saw in Siberia and why he looked to Lamarck's work for answers. Lamarck's theory was that 'field' [relational influence as with gravity, electromagnetism] outside-inwardly excited genetic expression and this epigenetic field influence inductively orchestrated mutually supportive behaviours, as in the leaking boat example. eg. 'The Russian Anarchist Prince Who Challenged Evolution' By Lee Alan Dugatkin

"Kropotkin wrote, “I saw Mutual Aid and Mutual Support carried on to an extent which made me suspect in it a feature of the greatest importance for the maintenance of life, the preservation of each species and its further evolution.” And it wasn’t just in animals. The peasants in the villages he visited were constantly helping one another in their fight against the brutal environment of Siberia. What’s more, he noted a correlation between the extent of mutual aid displayed in a peasant village and the distance of that village from the hand of government. It was just as the anarchists had suggested. “I lost in Siberia,” he wrote, “whatever faith in state discipline I had cherished before. I was prepared to become an anarchist.”

If modern anarchists could 'get off the pot' and understand that 'inhabitant-habitat nonduality' is a physical reality and that within a collective relationship with the land, epigenetic influence can be the non-hierarchical, non-authoritarian orchestrating influence, we could stop all the 'reason-driven' arguments that, as Nietzsche says, lead exactly nowhere.

it is time to restore our experience-based intuition to its natural primacy over science and reason.

epigenetic influence is where the situations we find ourselves included in, inductively actualize, orchestrate and shape our behaviours.

kropotkin found answers in Lamarck's work on evolution on how mutual aid developed very quickly in times of rapid environmental change. this was later seen as a mistake on kropotkin's part, but lamarck's work has since been proven correct; i.e. epigenetics are in a natural primacy over gene expression.

epigenetic influence is not allowed in the void euclidian space of mainstream science, so regardless of whether the sourcing of mutual aid is inductive/epigenetic, science demands that it be considered assertive/genetic, so out comes the model of the organisms as an 'independently-existing thing-in-themselves with their own genetic agency driving and directing their behaviours', ... all pushing and no pulling.

if you are in a boat that crashes into some rocks and springs 4 separate leaks and in rapid fire, four of the people in the boat, including you, spring into action and plug the leaks, and then someone says to you, 'that was great cooperative action', ... excellent teamwork! you may say, 'what teamwork?' i saw a leak and i plugged it. the other three may say the same.

mainstream science needs to restructure to acknowledge the natural primacy of epigenetic inductive influence over genetic agency. if hurricane winds are coming in every nook and cranny in the shelter, everyone will rise to the occasion and cover the holes as they break open. mainstream science has only one way to explain this; i.e. 'deliberate cooperation' and thus 'mutual aid' in that 'deliberately cooperative' sense. but the so-called 'new science of epigenetics' is changing all that because it recognizes that environmental dynamics can inductively actualize coordinated behaviours; i.e. it is not that people are deliberately cooperating with one another, in the case of sealing holes in the shelter, it is the environmental conditions that are outside-inwardly [epigenetically] inductively orchestrating their actions.

This is what Kropotkin saw in Siberia and why he looked to Lamarck's work for answers. Lamarck's theory was that 'field' [relational influence as with gravity, electromagnetism] outside-inwardly excited genetic expression and this epigenetic field influence inductively orchestrated mutually supportive behaviours, as in the leaking boat example. eg. 'The Russian Anarchist Prince Who Challenged Evolution' By Lee Alan Dugatkin

so where's the 'cooperation'? it is not there. there is none. there is only anarchism. what needed to be done was specified by the changing habitat and the inhabitants 'rose to the occasion' as in inhabitant-habitat nonduality; i.e. their behaviours were inductively actualized.

it is time to restore our experience-based intuition to its natural primacy over science and reason.

If modern anarchists could 'get off the pot' and understand that 'inhabitant-habitat nonduality' is a physical reality and that within a collective relationship with the land, epigenetic influence can be the non-hierarchical, non-authoritarian orchestrating influence, we could stop all the 'reason-driven' arguments that, as Nietzsche says, lead exactly nowhere.

"Kropotkin wrote, “I saw Mutual Aid and Mutual Support carried on to an extent which made me suspect in it a feature of the greatest importance for the maintenance of life, the preservation of each species and its further evolution.” And it wasn’t just in animals. The peasants in the villages he visited were constantly helping one another in their fight against the brutal environment of Siberia. What’s more, he noted a correlation between the extent of mutual aid displayed in a peasant village and the distance of that village from the hand of government. It was just as the anarchists had suggested. “I lost in Siberia,” he wrote, “whatever faith in state discipline I had cherished before. I was prepared to become an anarchist.”

anarchists are far away from anarchism, kropotkin books are dead letter on the paper, from anarchist morality to mutual aid, children of capitalism, present anarchists, refuse all of that. they just make small happy communes, eventually they burn some cars, and they stay children of capitalism.
if you meet anarchism, and then you meet anarchists, you will see that anarchists are children fo capitalism and they refuse to give equality to women, to make mutual aid to be reality, oh yes, children from royal family (kropotkin, bakunin) got help while in exile, but many poor anarchist got shit and nothing more than that. and today, many glorify chomsky, nobody gives a shit for some ordinary anarchist and his opinion. if you don't have capitalist degree, high education, your opinion is less worth in the eyes of wannabe anarchists.

Yes, academia/academic anarchists I do wonder about. They appear to be somewhat like the green environmentalists who jet around the world, consume like fuck and preach frugality to their followers. All anarchists are equal, some more equal than others. Did the academic highjack the anarchist historically speaking?

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