Altruism – The act of helping others. Kropotkin has been heralded as being one of the first thinkers to show how altruism played a key role, and was a driving force, in our evolution. He argues that it was only through altruistic acts that we managed to adapt and thrive in certain environments. This insight was gained from his own studies within the harsh Siberian landscape.
Anarchy – Deriving from the Greek an-, arché, meaning; ‘without rule’.
Anarchism – The political philosophy that strives for anarchy. For Kropotkin’s own definition of anarchism see his Britannica Encyclopedia article. There have been many different branches of anarchism; individualist-anarchism, collective-anarchism, anarcho-syndicalist, primitive-anarchism. Kropotkin advocates anarcho-communism (see below).
Anarcho-communism – The branch of anarchism that Kropotkin identifies his works with. Calls for decentralisation, voluntary exchange, direct action and mutual aid. It is against any state ownership or interference believing that society is better founded upon common ownership, voluntary association and ‘free agreement’. For more on this see Kropotkin’s essay Anarchistic Communism: Its basis and Principles
Appropriation – The act of taking, usually without permission. Kropotkin argues that the few have appropriated the necessary materials for the whole to flourish; land, raw materials, machinery, transport, etc.
Bolsheviks – Russian political party led by Lenin that played a major role in the 1917 revolution and took power after its success. This would see Kropotkin return to his country of birth that he fled from in 1876 but his initial optimism was soon displaced and he became critical of the Bolshevik regime.
Circle of Tchaikovsky – A literary and revolutionary group that started in St. Petersburg and which Kropotkin joined in 1872.
Collectivist Wage System – An argument presented by some that advocates wages should no longer be paid in money but ‘labour cheques’. Kropotkin calls the idea contradictory and argues it keeps the inequalities in society through its division of ‘simple’ and ‘qualified’ work.
Common Inheritance – Everything that makes our society; land, property, resources, knowledge, etc., has been accumulated throughout history through many minds and much labour. Nobody has the right to privately declare it as theirs, it is owned by everyone.
Corps of Pages – A privileged military school in St. Petersburg that Kropotkin attended for five years from 1857.
Decentralization – The idea that decisions should be made locally by those who it affects. Kropotkin also advocates for decentralized production and a communities self-sufficiency. The opposite of centralization e.g. a small authority making decisions that affect a larger population, a political system adopted by most governments worldwide.
Egoism – A view that prioritizes the self over others and their community. The opposite of altruism (see above).
English Lifeboat Association – An example that Kropotkin offers of a group where mutual aid is in practice with its self-sacrifice, local knowledge, co-operation, enthusiasm and solidarity. The association was run without state interference, hierarchal organization and through volunteers. Kropotkin himself volunteered with the association many times. He also offers the Red Cross as another example.
Ethics – A branch of philosophy that deals with morality and how to lead one’s life. Kropotkin was writing a book on the subject when he passed. To read the unfinished work click here.
Evolutionism – A theory put forward by Charles Darwin which argued that animals adapt over time to suit their environment. Kropotkin certainly believes in evolution but differs from Darwin in the importance he gives cooperation over competition.
Feudalism – Applies to the structuring of society in the middle ages based around the ownership of land. Kropotkin is highly critical of this and sees it as one of the main reasons for the loss of mutual aid, which he claimed had been a dominant driving force behind society before this, from the middle ages onwards.
Free Agreement – The majority of everyday transactions that happen without the need for government intervention, authority or guidance. Instead ‘free agreement’ depends upon mutual confidence, honesty and trust.
Freedom– The name of a journal that Kropotkin helped to found alongside Charlotte Wilson in 1886. The journal would expand into the Freedom Group which would publish pamphlets and books including pieces by notable writers such as Errico Malatesta, Emma Goldman, Herbert Spencer and William Morris. The group continues to exists today publishing a quarterly magazine, books and also have a bookshop in Whitechapel. For more information click here.
Guilds – Groups that were originally set up between trades and craftsmen who specialized in the same field. Kropotkin sees them as an example of mutual aid in practice as they were free from the interference of the state and run voluntarily.
International Workingmen’s Association – Also known as the First International, was committed to spreading socialism and uniting workers. Kropotkin travelled to Switzerland to join the group and played an active role in its activity.
Jura Federation – The ‘Bakunist’ faction of the International Workingmen’s Association which would eventually split from the IWA. They played an important role in developing what would become known as ‘anarchism’ with their scepticism towards any kind of centralized and hierarchical governmental rule.
Le Révolté – An anarchist paper founded by Kropotkin alongside François Dumartheray and Georg Herzig in 1879. Kropotkin’s involvement in the paper ended when he arrested and trialled in Lyon but the paper continued until 1885.
Malthusianism – A theory named after Thomas Robert Malthus, made famous in his work Principle of Population, which argued that population outgrowth is not sustainable and is one of the main causes of poverty. Criticized by Kropotkin, and others, for it relieves criticism from capitalism and places poverty-blame at the working classes themselves.
Manifesto of the Sixteen – A document that Kropotkin contributed too which supported the allied victory of Germany in WWI. The support towards governments and war led to criticism from most of the anarchist movement.
Mikhail Bakunin – A Russian revolutionary and anarchist thinker who greatly influenced Kropotkin. Exiled to Switzerland Bakunin played a founding role in the Jura Federation and the development of anarchism as a whole. Famous works include God and the State and Statism and Anarchy.
Mutual Aid – Kropotkin argued that alongside the law of mutual struggle there was the law of mutual aid. A response to Darwin’s ‘survival of the fittest’ which failed to include such natural and beneficial evolutionary traits as togetherness, community, strength in numbers, etc. Usually described by Kropotkin with attributes such as cooperation, solidarity, and support.
October Revolution – A revolution in Russia that saw the Bolsheviks, led by Lenin, claim power in St. Petersburg with the storming of the winter power and which would eventually lead to the formation of the Soviet Union.
Paris Commune – Food shortages and war led to unrest in Paris which, in March 1871, led to an uprising by workers who, along with unruly troops, the national guard and political activists, successfully captured the city. The revolutionary Paris Commune governed Paris until May 28 establishing several progressive laws during this time before eventually succumbing to the government’s army leading to the execution and imprisonment of thousands of Communards. To read Kropotkin’s essay on the Paris Commune, click here.
Peter and Paul Fortress – Where Kropotkin was kept as a political prisoner in St. Petersburg. Other famous inmates include Maxim Gorky, Mikhail Bakunin, Fyodor Dostoevsky and Leon Trotsky. Kropotkin managed to escape in 1876 and you can read the story of his escape in the ‘Arrest and Escape From Prison’ section in our biography.
Pierre-Joseph Proudhon – A French thinker (1809-1965) who was the first describe himself as an ‘anarchist’. Kropotkin read Proudhon’s works during his early years in Siberia and credits him as being highly influential in his own turning towards anarchism.
Prof. Kessler – A Russian-German zoologist and former dean of St. Petersburg University. He wrote essays and delivered lectures on the law of mutual aid and Kropotkin credits Professor Karl Kessler as a key influence and inspiration behind his own ideas.
The Russian Geographical Society – Where Kropotkin held a position for several years and undertook several expeditions through Siberia, Asia and Scandinavia. In this time he made several important contributions to glacial studies and cartography.
Wage-labour – The economic relationship between employer and employee where the latter is paid a monetary wage by the former for their services. Kropotkin is highly critical of such a model arguing that it concentrates wealth into the hands of the few who reap the rewards of the produce from their labourers who never realise the riches that their labour produces. He instead advocates for an economy based upon mutual exchange and voluntary cooperation. Instead of labour defining how much an individual may receive anarcho-communism bases this on need.
Zoology – A branch of biology that studies other animals. Kropotkin studied zoology and most of his works are related in someway to this branch. He has been heralded as being a key figure in bringing the study of altruism and mutualism within animal life.
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