Anarchist Geography

By Simon Springer

The long-standing association between anarchism and geography can be traced across the historical landscape from the towering peaks of heightened association to the low valleys of disconnection and ambivalence. Yet if Earth writing is to be understood as “a means of dissipating…prejudices and of creating other feelings more worthy of humanity” (Kropotkin 1978/1885, 7), then it seems obvious that anarchism has much to contribute to the discipline of geography. Geographical writings from influential anarchist philosophers such as Peter Kropotkin and Élisée Reclus blossomed during the late nineteenth century when their work contributed much to the intellectual climate of the time. Following their deaths in the early twentieth century, engagement with their work started to fade, yet the lasting impact of these visionary thinkers continues to be felt within the contemporary geographical theory, influencing the ways geographers think about diverse topics from ethnicity and “race” to social organization and capital accumulation, to urban and regional planning, to environmentalism and, perhaps surprisingly, even anticipating some of the key precepts of the recent “more-than-human” turn. As realpolitik and the quantitative revolution took hold of geography during the war years of the early twentieth century, the anti-authoritarian vision of Reclus and Kropotkin seemed to be pushed beyond the bounds of what were considered to be geographical concerns. Yet, as geographers rediscovered their bearings for social justice in the early 1970s, anarchism came back into the disciplinary view and was afforded serious consideration by academics advocating for what has since become known as “radical geography.” The publication of Antipode announced a new ethic for human geography, one that refused the stochastic models, inferential statistics, and econometrics that dominated geographical proceedings at the time, subverting this trajectory with qualitative approaches that placed the lived experiences of research participants at the center of its methodological focus. Anarchism played a key role in formulating this epistemological critique, where early engagements took inspiration from Kropotkin in arguing that radical geography should adopt his anarcho-communism as its point of departure.

The publication of a special issue of  Antipode on anarchism in 1978 demonstrated the ongoinginfluence of anarchist thought and practice on geography, as well as geography’s influence on anarchism. It was not just Kropotkin’s sociospatial contributions to human liberation that were celebrated in the issue, as Reclus also received accolades for the importance of his geographical vision for freedom. A reprinting of Kropotkin’s (1978/1885) essay “What Geography OughtTo Be” was meant to further demonstrate the enduring relevance of his work, while Murray Bookchin’s (1978/1965) “Ecology and Revolutionary Thought” was also reprinted, showing how the anarchism of supposed non-geographers had a significant bearing on the radical geographical thought that was beginning to make itself known. Around the same time, the newsletter of the Union of Socialist Geographers published a themed section on anarchist geographies, arising from a discussion group that took place at the University of Minnesota in 1976. These developments were indicative of a sense of optimism for anarchist ideas to reinvigorate a collective geographical practice that was increasingly turning its attention toward social justice. Yet, as the neoliberalism of the1980s and 1990s began to take hold of the world’s political-economic compass, anarchist engagements by geographers dwindled and were largely overshadowed by Marxist, feminist, and incipient poststructuralist critiques. Nonetheless, the decade of Reaganomics and Thatcherism did see the publication of Bookchin’s (2005/1982)The Ecology of Freedom, wherein he advanced an anarchist critique of nature’s domination by social hierarchy. The beginnings of some introspective reflection on geography’s colonial past and its enduring state-centricity also emerged at that time, where the foundational works of Halford Mackinder, Ellen Churchill Semple, Ellsworth Huntington, Isaiah Bowman, and Thomas Holdich were taken to task by anarchist geographers who drew on Kropotkin and Reclus in calling for the abandonment of our inherited disciplinary prejudices. The 1990sfared slightly better, where a special issue on anarchism was organized for the short-lived journal Contemporary Issues in Geography and Education, while Antipode continued to publish the work of geographers who developed new,anarchist-inspired theories related to counter-hegemonic struggle and resistance to capitalism. More recently a new generation of geographers has begun actively transgressing the frontiers of geography by situating anarchism at the center of their practices, theories, pedagogies, and methodologies, (re)mapping the possibilities of what anarchist perspectives might yet contribute to the discipline (Springer 2013). This anarchist(re)turn comes as capitalism’s house of cards begins to collapse under its own weight, where intensifying neo-liberalization, deepening financial crisis, and the ensuing revolt push anarchist praxis back into widespread currency both inside and outside of the academy.

From the vantage point of the present, it is important to recognize that the reduction in direct engagements with anarchism among academic geographers since the time of Reclus and Kropotkin in no way signals the decline of anarchism as a relevant political idea, something that is now actively being rediscovered by the new batch of anarchist geographers. Instead, it speaks to one of the core tenets of anarchist praxis, centered as it is on the politics of pre-figuration, where anarchism lives through the organization and creation of social relationships that strive to reflect the future society being sought. Prefigurative politics is the recognition that to plan without practice is akin to theory without empirics, history without voices, and geography without context. In other words, pre-figuration actively creates a new society in the shell of the old. So, while academic geography became obsessed with the trappings of positivism, and later the class-centric economism of Marxism, the geography of anarchism simply left the academy for the greener pastures of practice: on the streets as direct action, civil disobedience, and black bloc tactics; in the communes and intentional communities of the cooperative movement; amid activists and a range of small-scale mutual aid groups, networks, and initiatives; as tenant associations, trade unions, and credit unions; online through peer-to-peer filesharing, open-source software, and wikis; among neighbourhoods as autonomous migrant support networks and radical social centers; and, more generally, within the here and now of everyday life. In some ways what we are witnessing today, an even deeper appreciation for anarchism than we’ve ever actually seen within the academy, is the result of a century of struggle. Reclus and Kropotkin were not able to combine their anarchism with their geographical scholarship as they might do today, but not necessarily for lack of trying. Kropotkin was offered an endowed chair at Cambridge University, but turned it down because it came with the stipulation that he give up his political commitments. Nonetheless, the closer we move toward the present moment, the more the literature demonstrates an appreciation for praxis, where the result has been a burgeoning consideration of both sides of the theory/practice divide.

Although anarchism is frequently portrayed as a symptom of mental illness and a synonym for violence and chaos, rather than as a valid political philosophy, such sensationalism is a ploy by its detractors. While violence has informed some historical and contemporary anarchist movements, and it is difficult to deny this constituent, anarchism has no monopoly of violence; compared to other political creeds (e.g., nationalism or monarchism), anarchism is decidedly peaceful. The word “anarchy” comes from the Greek anarkhia meaning “without rule,” or against all forms of “archy” or systems of rule (i.e., patriarchy, oligarchy, monarchy, hierarchy, etc.). Violence can be seen as antithetical to anarchy precisely because all violence involves a form of domination, authority, or rule over other individuals. Violence is thus a particular form of “archy,” and not anarchy at all. Similarly, anarchism refuses chaos by creating new forms of organization that break with hierarchy and embrace egalitarianism. In fact, the symbol for anarchism ‘A’ is meant to suggest that anarchy is the mother of order, an idea advanced by Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, the first person to identify as an anarchist. Anarchism accordingly represents an unwavering political commitment that seeks to break from hierarchical structures and unfasten the bonds that facilitate and reproduce violence. It is the notion that our shared morality should not be premised on the prejudices of life as it is currently lived through a politics of consensus that is antagonistic toward difference, but rather on a version of empathy that embraces our ultimate integrality to each other and to all that is. Such a process entails the rejection of all the interlocking systems of domination, including capitalism, imperialism, colonialism, neoliberalism, militarism, classism, racism, nationalism, ethnocentrism, sexism, Orientalism, ableism, genderism, ageism, speciesism, homophobia, transphobia, organized religion, and, of course, the state. Simon Springer (2012, 1607) has accordingly defined anarchist geographies as “kaleidoscopic spatialities that allow for multiple, non-hierarchical, and protean connections between autonomous entities, wherein solidarities, bonds, and affinities are voluntarily assembled in opposition to and free from the presence of sovereign violence, predetermined norms, and assigned categories of belonging.” Such a holistic interpretation of anarchist geographies was first laid down by Reclus (1876–1894), whose primary contribution to the discipline was the emancipatory vision detailed in The Earth and Its Inhabitants: The Universal Geography, wherein he conceptualized a coalescence between humanity and the Earth itself. Reclus sought to eliminate all forms of domination, which were to be replaced with love and active compassion between all animals, both human and nonhuman, as a process of humanity discovering deeper emotional meaning through acknowledging itself as but one historical being in the flowering of a greater planetary consciousness. Kropotkin (2008/1902) did much to contribute to such a vision as well with his monumental Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution, wherein partial reply to the social Darwinism of his time, he observed mutual aid as cooperation among plants, animals, and humans, including mutual forms of assistance between species, thereby shedding light on a grander sense of agency, foreshadowing recent theorizing within the domain of more-than-human geographies. Anarchist ideas were from the outset explicitly geographical, differing greatly from the industrial imagination of Marxists, as emphasis was placed on decentralized organization, rural life, agriculture, and local production, which allowed for self-sufficiency and removed the ostensible need for central government. Anarchists were also rooted in a view of history that has been confirmed by the anthropological record, where, prior to recorded history, human societies established themselves without formal authority in ways that rejected coercive political institutions. Although early views of anarchism have been critiqued on the basis of their natural-ist assumptions, we would also do well to pause and reflect on the implicit naturalizing of hierarchical structures that suggest that hierarchies necessarily arise as societies grow, rather than analyzing the patterns through which authority is actually constructed and thinking through the innumerable anarchist alternatives that could be and are being developed.

In understanding anarchist geographies, we should begin by noting that anarchism is not about drafting sociopolitical blueprints for the future, nor does it trace a line or provide a model. Prefiguration should not be confused as predetermination, as anarchists are more concerned with identifying social tendencies, where the focus is on the possibilities that can be realized in the here and now. Anarchism accordingly points to a strategy of breaking the chains of coercion and exploitation by encompassing everyday acts of resistance and cooperation, where examples of viable anarchist alternatives are nearly infinite. The only limit to anarchist organizing is our imagination, and the sole existing criterion is that anarchism proceeds nonhierarchically. Such horizontal organization may come in the form of child-care collectives, street parties, gardening clinics, learning networks, flashmobs, community kitchens, free skools, rooftop occupations, freecycling, radical samba, sewing workshops, coordinated monkeywrenching, spontaneous disaster relief, infoshops, volunteer fire brigades, micro radio, building coalitions, collective hacking, wildcat strikes, neighbourhood tool sharing, tenant associations, workplace organizing, knitting collectives, and squatting, which are all anarchism in action, each with decidedly spatial implications. So what forms of action does anarchism take? “All forms,” Kropotkin once answered: “Indeed, the most varied forms, dictated by circumstances, temperament, and the means at disposal. Sometimes tragic, sometimes humorous, but always daring; sometimes collective, some-times purely individual, this policy of action will neglect none of the means at hand, no event of public life, in order to … awaken courage and fan the spirit of revolt.” (2005/1880, 39) Anarchist organization doesn’t seek to replace top-down state mechanisms by standing in for them; rather, it replaces them with people building what they need for themselves, free from coercion or the imposition of authority. Rather than proceeding from a centralized polity, social organization is conceived through local voluntary groupings that maintain autonomy as a decentralized system of self-governed communes of all sizes and degrees that coordinates activities and networks for all possible purposes through free federation. The coercive pyramid of the state structure is replaced with webs of free association, in which individual localities freely pursue their own political-economic and socio-cultural arrangements.

Anarchist geographies are actually not novel, in the sense that people have organized themselves collectively and practised mutual aid to satisfy their own needs throughout human history. Organization under anarchism is simply a continuation of this impulse, despite its attempted disruption by the state. As Colin Ward argued: “given a common need, a collection of people will, by trial and error, by improvisation and experiment, evolve order out of the situation – this order being more durable and more closely related to their needs than any kind of order external authority could provide. “(1982/1973, 28) There is consequently no transgeohistorical narrative to anarchism as, although it has been continuously present in human societies, mutual aid is nonetheless differentiated across space and time, taking on unique and even subtle forms according to context, needs, desires, and constraints placed on reciprocity by opposing systems such as capitalism. At certain times and in particular places mutual aid has been central to social life, while at other times the geographies of mutual aid have remained largely hidden from view, overshadowed by domination, competition, and violence. Yet, irrespective of adversarial conditions, mutual aid remains prevalent, and “the moment we stop insisting on viewing all forms of action only by their function in reproducing larger, total, forms of inequality of power, we will also be able to see that anarchist social relations and non-alienated forms of action are all around us.” (Graeber 2004, 76)

It is in the spirit of seeking new forms of organization that anarchist geographies have been “reanimated” as of late (Springer et al . 2012), emphasizing a do-it-yourself (DIY) ethos of autonomy, direct action, radical democracy, andnoncommodification. Arguments in favour of the radical potential of DIY culture have emphasized anarchist perspectives toward the everyday trans-formation of our lives, a sentiment that factors heavily in a great number of social movements, where geographers have begun thinking through how impermanent spaces may arise in response to sociopolitical action that eludes the formal structures of hierarchical control. Pickerill and Chatteron (2006) have adopted such an “autonomous geographies” approach in attempting to think through how spectacular protest and everyday life may be productively combined to enable alternatives to capitalism. Routledge’s (2003) notion of “convergence space” has similarly proven influential to anarchists insofar as it appreciates how grassroots networks and activists come together through multiscalar political action to produce a relational ethics of struggle, offering a reconvened sense of nonhierarchical organization.

The application of an explicitly anarcho-geographical perspective would benefit a range of contemporary issues, each with decidedly spatial implications, from the overt uprisings of the Arab Spring and the Occupy movement, to the spectacle of street theatre and Critical Mass rides, to the subversive resistance of trespassing and culture jamming, to lifestyle choices of dumpster diving and unschooling, to the mutual aid activities of community gardens and housing co-ops, to the organizing capabilities of bookfairs and Indymedia. Similarly, anarchism has much to contribute to enhancing geographical theory, where it is easy to envision how new research insights and agendas might productively arise from taking an anarchist approach to themes such as sovereignty and the state; homelessness and housing; environmental justice and sustainability; industrial restructuring and labour geographies; capital accumulation and property relations; policing and critical legal geographies; informal economies and livelihoods; urban design and aesthetics; agrarian transformation and landlessness; nonrepresentational theory and more-than-human geographies; activism and social justice; geographies of debt and economic crisis; belonging and place-based politics; participation and community planning; biopolitics and governmentality; postcolonial and post-development geographies; situated knowledges and alternative epistemologies; and anti-oppressive education and critical pedagogy. Kropotkin viewed teaching geography as an exercise in intellectual emancipation insofar as it afforded a means not only to awaken people to the harmonies of nature, but also to dissipate their nationalist and racist prejudices, a promise that geography still holds, and one that may be more fully realized should anarchist geographies be given the attention and care that is required for them to blossom. Retaining Reclus’s and Kropotkin’s skepticism for and challenges to the dominant ideologies of the day has much to offer contemporary geographical scholarship and its largely unreflexive acceptance of the civilizational, legal, and capitalist discourses that converge around the state. The perpetuation of the idea that human organization necessitates the formation of states is writ large in a discipline that has derided the “territorial trap,” yet has been generally hesitant to take the critique of state-centricity in the direction of anarchism. However, unlike the limited class-centricity of Marxian geography, the promise of anarchist geographies resides in their integrality, which refuses to assign priority to any one of the multiple dominating apparatuses, because all are seen as irreducible to one another. This means that no single struggle can wait on any other, and the a priori privilege of the workers, the vanguards, or any other category over any other should be rejected on the basis of its incipient hierarchy. Anarchism is quite simply the struggle against all forms of oppression and exploitation, a protean and multivariate process that is decidedly geographical. Anarchism is happening all about us.

References

Bookchin, M. 1978. “Ecology and RevolutionaryThought.” Antipode, 10: 21. (Original work published in 1965.)

Bookchin, M. 2005. The Ecology of Freedom: The Emergence and Dissolution of Hierarchy. Oakland, CA: AKPress. (Original work published in 1982.)

Graeber, D. 2004. Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology. Chicago: Prickly Paradigm Press.

Kropotkin, P. 1978. “What Geography Ought ToBe.” Antipode, 10: 6–15.  (Original work published in 1885.)

Kropotkin, P. 2005. “The Spirit of Revolt.” In Kropotkin’s Revolutionary Pamphlets, edited by R.Baldwin, 34–44. Whitefish, MT: Kessinger. (Original work published in 1880.)

Kropotkin, P. 2008. Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution. Charleston, SC: Forgotten Books. (Original work published in 2002.)

Pickerill, J., and P. Chatterton. 2006. “Notes towards Autonomous Geographies: Creation Resistance and Self-Management as Survival Tactics.” Progress in Human Geography, 30: 730–746.

Reclus, E. 1876–1894. The Earth and Its Inhabitants: The Universal Geography. London: J.S. Virtue.

Routledge, P. 2003. “Convergence Space: ProcessGeographies of Grassroots Globalization Net-works.” Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 28: 333–349.

Springer, S. 2012. “Anarchism! What Geography StillOught To Be.” Antipode, 44: 1605–1624.

Springer, S. 2013. “Anarchism and Geography: A Brief Genealogy of Anarchist Geographies” 

Timeline of Kropotkin’s Life

1842 December 21 – Peter Alekseyevich Kropotkin is born in Moscow. The fourth child of parents Major General Prince Alexei Petrovich Kropotkin and Ekaterina Nikolaevna Kropotkina.

1846 April 29 – Ekaterina Kropotkina dies of consumption at the age of 34.

1855 March 2 – Death of Nicholas I.

1857-1862 – Begins studying at the Page Corps, a military academy, in St. Petersburg.

1861 – Emancipation of the serfs. Also the year where Kropotkin has his first paper published in the journal Book Bulletin, a review of the essay ‘Working proletariat in England and France’ by Shelgunov.

1862 July 6 – Departs St. Petersburg for Siberia to serve with the Amur Cossacks.

1863 January – January uprising in Poland against Russian rule.

1863 June-September – First trip along the Amur river.

1864 – Geographical expedition to Manchuria.

1865Two Trips to Manchuria in 1864 published and received a positive reception.

1865 May-June – Expedition to the Sayan Mountains returning along the Oka river valley.

1865 August-December – Sailing expedition along the Amur and Ussuri.

1865 December – Submits first report to the Russian Geographical Society.

1866 – Geological expedition along Lena River as well as trips to Olekminsk and Vitim.

1867 April – Leaves the military and departs Siberia for St. Petersburg.

1867 September – Admitted to St. Petersburg University in the mathematical department but spends most of his time working on geographical matters.

1871 July-September – Exploration of traces of ancient glaciation in Finland and Sweden. Also offered the position of secretary to the Society but declines.

1871 October 6 – His father Alexei Petrovich Kropotkin dies.

1872 – Travels to Switzerland where he joins the Workingmens International Association and spends time with the Jura Federation.

1872 May – Joins the Circle of Tchaikovsky, a literary and revolutionary group.

1873 – Growing literary and academic success continues with the publication of the General outline of the orography of Eastern Siberia with a map and Report on the Olekminsk-Vitim expedition with a map and drawings.

1874 April 4 – Arrested and imprisoned at the Peter and Paul Fortress in St. Petersburg and placed in cell No. 52.

1875 October – Given permission by the King to continue working on his latest book, about the glacial formation in Sweden and Finland, while in prison.

1876 July 11 – Escape from prison hospital.

1876 August-September – Arrives in England after travelling through Scandinavia. Eventually settles in London and continues writing having several articles published in Nature.

1877 – Moves to Switzerland and travels through Spain and France.

1878 October 8 – Marriage to Sofia Grigorievna Ananyeva-Rabinovich.

1879 April – First issue of Le Révolté is published in Geneva.

1881 March 13 – Alexander II assassinated.

1881 – Expelled from Switzerland.

1881 July – Attends the International Anarchist Congress in London

1882 December 22 – Arrested in Thonon, France.

1883 January – Trialed in Lyon on the charge of being a member of the International.

1883 March – Transferred to Clairvaux prison.

1883 – Continues to write during this troubled year. Has pieces published in Nineteenth Century Magazine and Encyclopedia Britannica.

1885 – Friend and mentor E. Reclus publishes Speeches of a Rebel, a collection of articles by Kropotkin.

1886 January – Released from Clairvaux prison and moves to England, eventually resettling in London.

1886 – Founds the journal Freedom alongside Charlotte Wilson. In Russian and French Prisons is published.

1886 July 25 – His brother Alexander commits suicide in Tomsk.

1887 – Birth of daughter Alexandra.

1890 – Continues to be a prolific essayist, featuring prominently in journals such as the Nineteenth Century. The first essay of what would eventually become the book Mutual Aid is published.

1891Anarchist Communism: It’s basis and principles is published.

1892 La Conquête du Pain (The Conquest of Bread) is first published in French. The Spirit of Revolt is published.

1893 – Elected as a member of the British Association for the Advancement of Science.

1896An Appeal to the Young is published.

1899Fields, Factories and Workshops and Memoirs of a Revolutionist are published.

1901 – Travels and gives lectures through the US and Canada. Modern Science and Anarchism is published.

1902Memoirs of a Revolutionist is published in Russia and Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution is published in England.

1903 – Helps found a Russian anarchist journal called Bread and Liberty.

1905 – Russian Revolution of 1905 (First Russian Revolution). Russian Literature is published.

1906Conquest of Bread is published in English. First collected works are published in Russia but publication would soon be discontinued because of censorship.

1907 – Gives a speech to the Royal Geographical Socety of London on ‘The Drying of Eurasia’.

1909 – Publication of The Great French Revolution in French, English and German.

1910Anarchism is published in Encyclopedia Britannica.

1911 – Moves to Brighton, England.

1913 – Moves to Switzerland and publication in France of Modern Science and Anarchy.

1914-1917 – Vehemently opposes Germany and spends time during the war giving speeches against Germany and the importance of fighting against them.

1917 February – Russian Revolution

1917 June 12 – Returns to Russia.

1917 August – Moves to Moscow.

1917 October – October Revolution which sees Bolsheviks claim power.

1918 July – Moves to Dmitrov, a town 40 miles north of Moscow.

1919 – Gives lectures throughout the year as well as meeting with Lenin.

1921 February 8 – Peter Kropotkin dies in Dmitrov, Moscow at the age of 78.

1921 February 13 – Funeral of Kropotkin. Lenin personal approves a funeral to which a reported 30,000 people attend and which would be the last mass gathering of anarchists allowed in the Soviet Union.

Sources

Kropotkin, V.A. Markin

Memoirs of a Revolutionist, Kropotkin

< BiographyExternal Biographies >

Stop the War!

The following message to British workers, by Peter Kropotkin, was brought from Russia by Miss Margaret Bondfield, a member of the British Labour Delegation, who visited him at his home at Dmitrov, near Moscow. His criticism of Soviet rule and his appeal to the workers to stop the war against Russia will be read with interest.

It first appeared in Freedom July 1920

I have been asked whether I have not some message to send to the working men of the Western world? Surely, there is much to say about the current events in Russia, and much to learn from them. The message might be long. But I shall indicate only some main points.

First of all, the working men of the civilised world and their friends in the other classes ought to induce their Governments entirely to abandon the idea of an armed intervention in the affairs of Russia— whether open or disguised, whether military or in the shape of subventions to different nations.

Russia is now living through a revolution of the same depth and the same importance as the British nation underwent in 1639-1648, and France in 1789-1794; and every nation should refuse to play the shameful part that Great Britain, Prussia, Austria, and Russia played during the French Revolution.

Moreover, it must be kept in view that the Russian Revolution— while it is trying to build up a society where the whole produce of the joint efforts of Labour, technical skill and scientific knowledge should go entirely to the Commonwealth itself—is not a mere accident in the struggle of different parties. It is something that has been prepared by nearly a century of Communist and Socialist propaganda, since the times of Robert Owen, Saint-Simon, and Fourier; and although the attempt at introducing the new society by means of the dictatorship of one party is apparently doomed to be a failure, it nevertheless must be recognised that the Revolution has already introduced into our everyday life new conceptions about the rights of Labour, its true position in society, and the duties of every citizen, which have come to stay.

Altogether, not only the working men, but all the progressive elements of the civilised nations ought to put a stop to the support hitherto given to the opponents of the Revolution. Not that there should be nothing to oppose in the methods of the Bolshevist Government! Far from that! But because every armed intervention of a foreign Power necessarily results in a reinforcement of the dictatorial tendencies of the rulers, and paralyses the efforts of those Russians who are ready to aid Russia, independently of the Government, in the reconstruction of its life on new lines.

The evils naturally inherent in party dictatorship have thus been increased by the war conditions under which this party maintained itself. The state of war has been an excuse for strengthening the dictatorial methods of the party, as well as its tendency to centralise every detail of life in the hands of the Government, with the result that immense branches of the usual activities of the nation have been brought to a standstill. The natural evils of State Communism are thus increased tenfold under the excuse that all misfortunes of our life are due to the intervention of foreigners.

Besides, I must also mention that a military intervention of the Allies, if it is continued, will certainly develop in Russia a bitter feeling against the Western nations, and this will some day be utilised by their enemies in possible future conflicts. Such a bitterness is already developing.

In short, it is high time that the West-European nations should enter into direct relations with the Russian nation. And in this direction you—the working classes and the advanced portions of all nations—ought to have your say.

One word more about the general question. A renewal of relations between the European and American nations and Russia certainly must not mean the admission of a supremacy of the Russian nation over those nationalities of which the empire of the Russian Tsars was composed. Imperial Russia is dead, and will not return to life. The future of the various provinces of which the empire was composed lies in the direction of a great Federation. The natural territories of the different parts of that Federation are quite distinct for those of us who are acquainted with the history of Russia, its ethnography, and its economic life; and all attempts to bring the constituent parts of the Russian Empire—Finland, the Baltic Provinces, Lithuania, the Ukraine, Georgia, Armenia, Siberia, and so on—under one central rule are surely doomed to failure. The future of what was the Russian Empire is in the direction of a Federation of independent units. It would, therefore, be in the interest of all that the Western nations should declare beforehand that they are recognising the right of self-government for every portion of what was once the Russian Empire.

As to my own views on the subject, they go still further. I see the coming, in a near future, of a time when every portion of that Federation will itself be a federation of free rural communes and free cities; and I believe still that portions of Western Europe will soon take the lead in that direction.

Now, as regards our present economical and political situation—the Russian Revolution being a continuation of the two great Revolutions in England and in France—Russia is trying now to make a step in advance of where France stopped, when it came to realise in life what was described then as real equality (egalite de fait), that is economical equality.

Unfortunately, the attempt to make that step has been undertaken in Russia under the strongly-centralised Dictatorship of one party—the Social Democratic Maximalists; and the attempt was made on the lines taken in the utterly Centralist and Jacobinist conspiracy of Babeuf. About this attempt I am bound frankly to tell you that, in my opinion, the attempt to build up a Communist Republic on the lines of strongly-centralised State Communism under the iron rule of the Dictatorship of a party is ending in a failure. We learn in Russia how Communism cannot be introduced, even though the populations, sick of the old regime, opposed no active resistance to the experiment made by the new rulers.

The idea of Soviets, that is, of Labour and Peasant Councils, first promoted during the attempted revolution of 1905 and immediately realised by the revolution of February, 1917, as soon as the Tsar’s regime broke down—the idea of such councils controlling the political and economical life of the country is a grand idea. The more so as it leads necessarily to the idea of these Councils being composed of all those who take a real part in the production of national wealth by their own personal effort.

But so long as a country is governed by the dictatorship of a party, the Labour and Peasant Councils evidently lose all their significance. They are reduced to the passive role played in times past by “General States” and Parliaments, when they were convoked by the King and had to oppose an all-powerful King’s Council.

A Labour Council ceases to be a free and valuable adviser when there is no free Press in the country, and we have been in this position for nearly two years, the excuse for such conditions being the state of war. More than that, the Peasant and Labour Councils lose all their significance when no free electoral agitation precedes the elections, and the elections are made under the pressure of party dictatorship. Of course, the usual excuse is that a dictatorial rule was unavoidable as a means of combatting the old regime. But such a rule evidently becomes a formidable drawback as soon as the Revolution proceeds towards the building up of a new society on a new economic basis: it becomes a death sentence on the new construction.

The ways to be followed for overthrowing an already weakened Government and taking its place are well known from history, old and modern. But when it comes to build up quite new forms of life—especially new forms of production and exchange—without having any examples to imitate; when everything has to be worked out by men on the spot, then an all-powerful centralised Government which undertakes to supply every inhabitant with every lamp-glass and every match to light the lamp proves absolutely incapable of doing that through its functionaries, no matter how countless they may be—it becomes a nuisance. It develops such a formidable bureaucracy that the French bureaucratic system, which requires the intervention of forty functionaries to sell a tree felled by a storm on a public road, becomes a trifle in comparison. This is what we now learn in Russia. And this is what you, the working men of the West, can and must avoid by ail means, since you care for the success of a social reconstruction, and sent here your delegates to see how a Social Revolution works in real life.

The immense constructive work that is required from a Social Revolution cannot be accomplished by a central Government, even if it had to guide it in its work something more substantial than a few Socialist and Anarchist booklets. It requires the knowledge, the brains, and the willing collaboration of a mass of local and specialised forces, which alone can cope with the diversity of economical problems in their local aspects. To sweep away that collaboration and to trust to the genius of party dictators is to destroy all the independent nuclei, such as Trade Unions (called in Russia “Professional Unions”) and the local distributive Co-operative organisations—turning them into bureaucratic organs of the party, as is being done now. But this is the way not to accomplish the Revolution; the way to render its realisation impossible. And this is why I consider it my duty earnestly to warn you from taking such a line of action.

Imperialist conquerors of all nationalities may desire that the populations of the ex-empire of Russia should remain in miserable economic conditions as long as possible, and thus be doomed to supply Western and Middle Europe with raw stuffs, while the Western manufacturers, producing manufactured goods, should cash all the benefits that the population of Russia might otherwise obtain from their work. But the working classes of Europe and America, and the intellectual nuclei of these countries, surely understand that only by the force of conquest could they keep Russia in that subordinate condition. At the same time, the sympathies with which our Revolution was met all over Europe and America show that you were happy to greet in Russia a new member of the international comradeship of nations. And you surely soon see that it is in the interest of the workers of all the world that Russia should issue as soon as possible from the conditions that paralyse now her development.

A few words more. The last war has inaugurated new conditions of life in the civilised world. Socialism is sure to make considerable progress, and new forms of a more independent life surely will be soon worked out on the lines of local political independence and free scope in social reconstruction, either in a pacific way, or by revolutionary means if the intelligent portions of the civilised nations do not join in the task of an unavoidable reconstruction.

But the success of this reconstruction will depend to a great extent upon the possibility of a close co-operation of the different nations. For this co operation the labouring classes of all nations must be closely united, and for that purpose the idea of a great International of all working men of the world must be renewed; not in the shape of a Union directed by one single party, as was the case in the Second International, and is again in the Third. Such Unions have, of course, full reason to exist, but besides them and uniting them all ‘there must be a Union of all the Trade Unions of the world—of all those who produce the wealth of the world—united, in order to free the production of the world from its present enslavement to Capital.

The Sterilization of the Unfit

This was a lecture given by Kropotkin to the Eugenics Congress in London in August 1911. It first appeared in written form in Mother Earth no. 10 December 1912, pg. 354-357

Permit me to make a few remarks: one concerning the papers read by Professor Loria and Professor Kellogg, and another of a more general character concerning the purposes and the limitations of Eugenics.

First of all I must express my gratitude to Professor Loria and to Professor Kellogg for having widened the discussion about the great question which we all have at heart—the prevention of the deterioration and the improvement of the human race by maintaining in purity the common stock of inheritance of mankind.

Granting the possibility of artificial selection in the human race, Professor Loria asks: “Upon which criterion are we going to make the selection?” Here we touch upon the most substantial point of Eugenics and of this Congress. I came this morning with the intention of expressing my deep regret to see the narrow point of view from which Eugenics has been treated up till now, excluding from our discussions all this vast domain where Eugenics comes in contact with social hygiene. This exclusion has already produced an unfavorable impression upon a number of thinking men in this country, and I fear that this impression may be reflected upon science altogether. Happily enough the two papers I just mentioned came to widen the field of our discussions.

Before science is enabled to give us any advice as to the measures to be taken for the improvement of the human race, it has to cover first with its researches a very wide field. Instead of that we have been asked to discuss not the foundations of a science which has still to be worked out, but a number of practical measures, some of which are of a legislative character. Conclusions were already drawn from a science before its very elements had been established.

Thus we have been asked to sanction, after a very rapid examination, marriage certificates, Malthusianism, the notification of certain contagious diseases, and especially the sterilization of the individuals who may be considered as undesirables.

I do not lose sight of the words of our president, who indicated the necessity-of concentrating our attention upon the heredity aspects of this portion of social hygiene; but I maintain that by systematically avoiding considerations about the influence of surroundings upon the soundness of what is transmitted by heredity, the Congress conveys an entirely false idea of both Genetics and Eugenics. To use the word a la mode, it risks the “sterilization” of its own discussions. In fact, such a separation between surroundings and inheritance is impossible, as we just saw from Professor Kellogg’s paper, which has shown us how futile it is to proceed with Eugenic measures when such immensely powerful agencies, like war and poverty, are at work to counteract them.

Another point of importance is this. Science, that is, the sum total of scientific opinion, does not consider that all we have to do is to pay a compliment to that part of human nature which induces man to take the part of the weak ones, and then to act in the opposite direction. Charles Darwin knew that the birds which used to bring fish from a great distance to feed one of their blind fellows were also a part of Nature, and, as he told us in “Descent of Man,” such facts of mutual support were the chief element for the preservation of the race; because, such facts of benevolence nurture the sociable instinct, and without that instinct not one single race could survive in the struggle for life against the hostile forces of Nature.

My time is short, so I take only one question out of those which we have discussed: Have we had any serious discussion of the Report of the American Breeders’ Association, which advocated sterilization? Have we had any serious analysis of the vague statements of that Report about the physiological and mental effects of the sterilization of the feeble-minded and prisoners? Were any objections raised when this sterilization was represented as a powerful deterring means against certain sexual crimes?

In my opinion, Professor McDonnell was quite right when he made the remark that it was untimely to talk of such measures at the time when the criminologists themselves are coming to the conclusion that the criminal is “a manufactured product,” a product of society itself. He stood on the firm ground of modern science. I have given in my book on Prisons some striking facts, taken from my own close observation of prison life from the inside, and I might produce still more striking facts to show how sexual aberrations, described by Krafft Ebing, are often the results of prison nurture, and how the germs of that sort of criminality, if they were present in the prisoner, were always aggravated by imprisonment.

But to create or aggravate this sort of perversion in our prisons, and then to punish it by the measures advocated at this Congress, is surely one of the greatest crimes. It kills all faith in justice, it destroys all sense of mutual obligation between society and the individual. It attacks the race solidarity—the best arm of the human race in its struggle for life.

Before granting to society the right of sterilization of persons affected by disease, the feeble-minded, the unsuccessful in life, the .epileptics (by the way, the Russian writer you so much admire at this moment, Dostoyevsky, was an epileptic), is it not our holy duty carefully to study the social roots and causes of these diseases?

When children sleep to the age of twelve and fifteen in the same room as their parents, they will show the effects of early sexual awakenings with all its consequences. You cannot combat such widely spread effects by sterilization. Just now 100,000 children have been in need of food in consequence of a social conflict. Is it not the duty of Eugenics to study the effects of a prolonged privation of food upon the generation that was submitted to such a calamity?

Destroy the slums, build healthy dwellings, abolish that promiscuity between children and full-grown people, and be not afraid, as you often are now, of “making Socialism”; remember that to pave the streets, to bring a supply of water to a city, is already what they call to “make Socialism”; and you will have improved the germ plasm of the next generation much more than you might have done by any amount of sterilization.

And then, once these questions have been raised, don’t you think that the question as to who are the unfit must necessarily come to the front? Who, indeed? The workers or the idlers? The women of the people, who suckle their children themselves, or the ladies who are unfit for maternity because they cannot perform all the duties of a mother? Those who produce degenerates in the slums, or those who produce degenerates in palaces?

The Revolution in Russia

The essay first appeared in Mother Earth no. 5, July 1906

THE Russian Revolution has lately entered into a new phase. Dark gloom hung about the country during the months of January to April. Now it is all bright hopes owing to the unexpected results of the Duma elections all turning in favor of the Radicals. But before speaking of the new hopes, let us cast a glance on that terrible gloomy period which the country has just lived through.

In every revolution, a number of local uprisings is always required to prepare the great successful effort of the people. So it has been in Russia. We have had the local uprisings at Moscow, in the Baltic provinces, in the Caucasus and in the villages of Central Russia. And each of these uprisings, remaining local, was followed by a terrible repression.

The General Strike, declared at Moscow in January last, did not succeed. The working men had suffered too much during the great General Strike in October, 1905, and the partial strikes which followed. And when the provocations of the Government compelled the Moscow workingmen to strike, the movement did not generalize. Only a few factories on the Presnya and a few railway lines joined it. The Grand Trunk—Moscow to St. Petersburg—continued to work, and troops were brought on it to Moscow.

As to the troops stationed at Moscow itself they showed signs of deep discontent, and probably would have sided with the people if the strike had been general and a crowd of 300,000 workingmen had flooded the streets, as they did flood in October last. But when they saw that the General Strike had failed they obeyed their commanders.

And yet the week during which a handful of armed revolutionists—less than 2,000—and the workers on strike in the Presnya fought against the artillery and the soldiers, and when several miles of barricades were built by the crowd—by the man and the boy in the street— this week proved how wrong were all the “fire-side revolutionists” when they proclaimed the impossibility of street warfare in a revolution.

As to the Letts and the Eslhonians in the Baltic provinces, their uprising against their haughty and rapacious German landlords was a great movement. All over a large country the peasants and the artisans of the small towns rose up. They nominated their own municipalities, they sent away the German judges, refused to work for the landlords, paid no rents,—proceeded in short as if they were free. And if their uprising was finally drowned in blood, it has shown at least what the peasants must do all over Russia. In fact the latent insurrection continues still.

The repression which followed the uprising was terrible. The British press has not told one-tenth of the atrocities which were committed by the imperial troops in the Baltic provinces, along the Moscow to Kazan railway line, in the Caucasus, in Siberia, or in the Russian villages. And when we tried to tell the truth about these atrocities, either in some widely read English review, or before large public meetings, we always felt the dead wall of some inexplicable opposition rising against us. The treaty or agreement which has been concluded a few days ago between the Governments of Great Britain and Russia explains now the cause of the opposition to the divulgation in this country of facts which were openly published in the Russian papers, in Russia itself.

The repression was a story of a wholesale murder, accomplished by the troops systematically, in cold blood. Modern history knows only one similarly savage repression : the wholesale murders by the middle-class army at Paris after the defeat of the Commune, in May, 1871. And yet these murders were committed after a fierce fight, in the lurid light of burning Paris.

The detachment of the guard which was sent along the Moscow-Kazan line had not one single shot fired against it. The revolutionists had already left the line and disbanded when that regiment came. But at every station Colonel Minn, head of this detachment, and his officers shot from ten to thirty men, simply taking their names from lists supplied to the troops by the secret police. They shot them without any simulation of a trial, or even of identification. They shot them in batches, without any warning. Shot anyhow, from behind, into the heap. Colonel Minn shot them simply with his revolver.

As to the peasants in the Baltic provinces it was still worse. Whole villages were flogged. Those men whom a local landlord would name as “dangerous” were shot on the spot, without any further inquiries—very often a son for his father, one brother for another, an Ivanovsky for an Ivanitsky. It was such an orgy of flogging and killing that a young officer, having himself executed several men in this way, shot himself next day when he realized what he had done.

In Siberia, in the Caucasus, the horrors were even more revolting. And in five villages of Russia, where the peasants had shown signs of unrest, the same executions went on, sometimes with unimaginable cruelty, as was, for instance, the case in Tamboff, with that governor’s aid, Luzhenovsky, whom the heroic girl Spirido- nova killed. “When I came to the villages and saw the old men who had grown insane after having been tortured under the whips, and when I had spoken to the mother of the girl who had flung herself into the well after the Cossacks had violated her, I felt that life was impossible so long as that man, Luzhenovsky, would go on unpunished.” Thus spoke this heroic girl on her trial.

But worse than that was in store. All the world has shuddered when it learned the tortures to which Miss Spiridonova was submitted by the police officer Zhdanoff and the Cossack officer Abramoff after her arrest. The tortures of our Montjuich comrades and brothers fade before the sufferings which were inflicted upon this girl. And all over Russia there was lately a sigh of satisfaction when that Abramoff was killed and the revolutionist who killed that beast made his escape, and again the other day when it was known that the other beast, Zhdanoff, had met the same fate.

The gloominess which prevailed in Russia when the Witte-Durnovo ministry had inaugurated the wholesale shooting of the rebels could not be described without quoting pages from the Russian newspapers. Over 70,000 people were arrested; the prisons were full to overflowing. Batches of exiles began to be sent, as of old, by mere order of the Administration, to Siberia. The old exiles, returning under the amnesty of November 2, 1905, meeting on their way home the batches of the Witte-Durnovo exiles. The revolutionists of all sections of the Socialist party, Revolutionary Socialists, Anarchists, and even Social Democrats, took to revolver and bomb, and every day one could read in the Russian papers that one, two, or more functionaries of the Crown had been killed by the revolutionists in revenge for the atrocities they had committed. Scores of men and women, like Spiridonova, the sisters Izmailovitch, and so many other heroic women and young men, felt sick of life under such a system of Asiatic rule, and made the vow of taking revenge upon the executioners.

It was under such conditions that the elections to the Duma took place. And now the few supporters of the Tsar had to discover that their satraps had overdone the oppression. Various measures were taken by the Government to manipulate the elections so as to have a crushing majority in their favor. The Liberal candidates were arrested’ the meetings forbidden, the newspapers confiscated—every governor of a province acting as a Persian satrape on his own responsibility. Those who spoke or went about for the advanced candidates were most unceremoniously searched and sent to jail. . . . And all that was—labor lost!

The reaction had developed within these three months such a bitter hatred against the Government that none but opposition candidates had any chance of being listened to and elected. “Are you against these wild beasts or for them?” This was the only question that was asked.

And the Constitutional Democrats obtained a crushing majority in the Duma (pronounce Dooma), such a majority that the Russian Government is now perplexed as to what is to be done next.

The Revolutionary Socialists and the Social Democrats abstained from taking any part in the elections, and therefore there are very few avowed Socialists in the Duma. [9] But apart from that the Duma contains all those middle- class Radicals whose names have come to the front during the last thirty years as foes of autocracy.

The most interesting element in the Duma are the peasants, who have nearly 120 representatives elected. With the exception of some thirty men, who are of unsettled opinion, the peasant representatives are absolutely and entirely with the most advanced Radicals in political matters, and with the Socialist workingmen in all the labor demands. But, in addition to that, they put forward the great question—the greatest of our century—the land question.

“No one who does not till the land himself has any right to the land. Only those who work on it with their own hands, and every one of those who does so, must have access to the land. The land is the nation’s property, and the nation must dispose of it according to its needs.” This is their opinion—their faith, and no economists of any camp will shake it.

“Eighty years ago we were settled in these prairies,” one of those peasants said the other day. That land was a desert. “We have made the value of all this region; but half of it was taken by the landlords (in accordance with the law, of course; but we, peasants, do not admit that a law could be a law once it is unjust). It was taken by the landlords—we must have it back.”

“But if you take that land, and there are other villages in the neighborhood which have no land but their poor allotments, what then?”

“Then they have a right to it, just as we have. But not the landlords!”

There is all the Social Question, all the Socialist wisdom, in these plain words.

“If the peasants seize the land, then the factory hands will apply the same reasoning to the factories!” exclaim the terrified correspondents of the English papers in reporting such plain talk.

Yes, they will. Undoubtedly they will. They must. Because, if they don’t do it all our civilization must go to wreck and ruin—like the Roman, the Greek, the Egyptian, the Babylonian civilizations went to the ground. Another important feature. The Russian peasants don’t trust their representatives. These men from the plough have understood the gist of parliamentarism better than those who have grown infected gradually by Parliament worship. Their election fell upon this or that man; but they knew they must not trust him. Election is somewhat of a piece of gambling. And therefore a number of private peasant delegates are now seen in the galleries of the Russian Duma, whom their villages have sent to keep watch over their representatives in Parliament. They know that these representatives will soon be spoiled and bribed one way or another. So they sent delegates—mostly old, respected peasants, not fine in words, not of the self-advertising class, men who never would be elected, but who will honestly keep their eye upon the M.P.’s.

However, although the Duma has been only a few days together, a general feeling grows in Russia that all this electioneering is not yet the proper thing. “What can the Duma do?” they ask all over Russia. “If the Government doesn’t want it they will send it away. How can 500 men resist the Government if they make up their minds to send them back to their homes?”

And so, all over Russia the feeling grows that the Parliament and its debates are not the right thing yet. It is only a preliminary to something else which is to come. “They will express our needs; they will agree upon certain things” . . . but a feeling grows in Russia that the action will have to come from the people.

And the underground work, the slow work of maturing convictions and of grouping together, goes on all over Russia as a preparation to something infinitely more important than all the debates of the Duma.

They don’t even pronounce the name of this more important thing. Perhaps most of them don’t know its name. But we know it and we may tell it. It is the Revolution: the only real remedy for the redress of wrongs.

Enough of Illusions!

This article first appeared in Mother Earth no. 7 September 1907, pg. 277-283

THE dismissal of the second Duma terminated the first period of the Russian Revolution, the Period of Illusions. These illusions were born when Nicholas II., appalled by the general strike of October, 1905, issued a manifesto promising to convoke the representatives of the people and to rule with their aid.

Everyone clearly recollects the circumstances under which these concessions were wrested. Industrial, commercial and administrative activities came to a sudden stop. Neither revolutionists, nor political parties instigated and organized this grand manifestation of the people’s will. It originated in Moscow and rapidly spread over entire Russia, like those great elemental popular movements that occasionally seize upon millions, making them act in the same direction, with amazing unanimity, thereby performing miracles.

Mills and factories were closed, railroad traffic was interrupted; food products accumulated in huge masses on way-stations and could not reach the towns where the populace were starving. Darkness and silence of the grave struck terror into the hearts of the rulers who were ignorant of the happenings in the interior, as the strike had extended to the postal and telegraph service.

It was animal fear for himself and his own that forced Nicholas II. to yield to Witte’s exhortations and convoke the Duma. It was terror before the throng of 300,000 invading the streets of St. Petersburg, and preparing to storm the prisons, that compelled him to concede an amnesty.

It would seem that no faith should have been placed in the faint traces of constitutional liberties thus extorted. The experience of history, especially that of ’48, has shown that constitutions granted from above were worthless, unless a substantial victory, won by the spilling of blood, converted the paper concessions into actual gains, and unless the people themselves widened their rights by commencing, of their own accord, a reconstruction along the lines of local autonomy.

The rulers, who had submitted on the spur of the moment, in such cases have usually allowed the heat and triumph of the people to subside, meanwhile preparing faithful troops, listing the agitators to be arrested or annihilated, and in a few months have repudiated their promises, and forcibly put down the people in revenge for the fear and humiliations they had to undergo.

Russia had suffered so much during the preceding half-century of hunger and outrage and insolence of her masters; Russian cultured society was so exhausted by the long sanguinary and unequal struggle—that the first surrender of the treacherous Romanoff was hailed as bona fide concession. Russia exultingly ushered in the Era of Liberty.

In a previous article we had pointed out that on the very day the October manifesto was signed, introducing a liberal regime, the wicked and treacherous Nicholas, with his consorts, instituted the secret government of Trepoff in Peterhoff, with the object of counteracting and paralyzing those reforms. In the first days of popular jubilations, when the people believed the Tsar, the gendarmerie, under the guidance of the secret government, hastily issued proclamations inciting to slaughter of Jews and intelligents, despatched its agents to organize pogroms and raids. These agents gathered bands of Hooligans, cut down intelligents in Tver and Tomsk, mowed down men, women and children celebrating the advent of freedom, while Trepoff—the right hand of the Tsar—issued the order “not to spare ammunition” in dispersing popular demonstrations.

The majority divined the source of the pogroms. But our radicals had committed their customary blunder. They were so little informed (and are yet to-day) as to the doings in the ruling circles that this double-faced policy of Nicholas was positively known only seven or eight months later when exposed by Urusoff in the first Duma. Even then, prompted by Russian good nature, men still reiterated that it was not the Tsar’s fault, but his advisers’. The Tsar, it was said, was too mild to be crafty. In reality—and it is now becoming a conviction —he is too malicious not to be treacherous.

While the secret government of Peterhof was thus organizing pogroms and massacres, and turning loose upon the peasantry hordes of Cossacks brutalized in their police service, our radicals and Socialists had their dreams of “parliament,” forming parliamentary parties, with their inevitable intrigues and factional dissensions, and imagined themselves in possession of the constitutional procedure that had taken England centuries to form.

The outlying provinces alone understood that, utilizing the discomfiture of the government caught unawares, it was necessary to rise at once, and, without consulting the abortive “autocratic constitution,” to pull down the local institutions which are the mainstay of the government over the entire extent of Russia. Such risings broke out in Livonia, Guria, Western Grusia, and on the East-Siberian railway. The Gurians and Letts set a fine example of a popular insurrection: their first step was to establish local revolutionary autonomy.

Unfortunately these revolts found no support either from their neighbors, or from Central Russia and Poland. And even where the villages revolted in Central Russia they were not sustained by the cities and towns. Russia did not do what was done in July, 1789, when the insurgent town populaces of Eastern France abolished the crumbling-down municipalities, and, acting from below, began with the organization of districts, ordering the town affairs without waiting for royal or parliamentary laws. Even the Moscow rising did not awaken active aid in the masses and failed to put forth the usual revolutionary expedient—an autonomous municipal commune.

Diligent inculcation of German ideals of imperial centralization, of party discipline, into the minds of Russian revolutionists bore fruit. Our revolutionaries heroically joined in the struggle, but failed to produce revolutionary mottoes. Even if they were vaguely surmised there was no one to formulate them definitely.

The individual revolts were crushed. Trains carrying the Semenoff regiment were allowed to pass to Moscow while the revolutionaries were awaiting “directions” from some source. The punitive detachment led by Meller-Zokomelsky left Cheliabinsk and reached Chita unmolested: in spite of the strike on the Siberian railway it was permitted to proceed! The brutal inroads of Orloff raged in the Baltic provinces, but the Letts could elicit no help from the West and Poland. Guria was laid waste, and wherever the Russian peasants stirred the Cossacks beat them down with a ferocity like that of the Terrible Ivan’s bodyguard.

In the meantime the naive—foolishly naive—faith in the Duma was still alive. Not that the Duma was regarded as a check to arbitrariness, or capable in its narrow sphere of curbing the zeal of the Peterhofers. O, no! The Duma was looked upon as the future citadel of legality. Why? “Because,” reiterated our simpleminded intelligents, “autocracy cannot subsist without a loan, and foreign bankers will lend no money without the Duma’s sanction.” This was asserted at a time when the French and even the English governments were backing a new loan, not without guarantees to be sure, for it was desired to draw Russia into a contemplated conflict with Germany.*

Even the dismissal of the first Duma and the drumhead courts-martial did not sober our simple-hearted politicians. They still believed in the magic power of the Duma and in the possibility of gaimng a constitution through it. The character of the labors of both Dumas shows this.

There are words—”winged words”—that travel around the earth, inspire people, steel them to fight, to brave death. If the Duma did not pass a solitary law tending to renovate life, one might at least expect to hear such words. In a revolutionary epoch, when destructive work precedes constructive efforts, bursts of enthusiasm possess marvelous power. Words, mottoes, are mightier than a passed law, for the latter is sure to be a compromise between the spirit of the Future and the decayed Past.

The Versailles House of 1789 lived in unison with Paris; they reacted upon each other. The poor of Paris would not have revolted on the I4th of July had not the Third Estate, three weeks before, uttered its pledge not to disperse until the entire order of things was altered. What if this oath were theatrical; what if, as we now know, had not Paris risen, the deputies would have meekly departed, as did our Duma. Those were words, but they were words that inspired France, inspired the world. And when the House formulated and announced “The Rights of Man,” the revolutionary shock of the new Era thrilled the world.

Similarly we know now that the French King would have vetoed any law about the alienation, even with recompense, of the landlords’ feudal rights; moreover, the House itself (like our cadets) would not have passed it. What of that? Nevertheless, the House uttered a mighty summons in the first article of the declaration of prin

As if Turkey, ten times bankrupt, did not procure new loans, even for war purposes. As if the Western bankers do not exert themselves to reduce as many countries as possible to the condition of Greece and Egypt, wherein the bankers’ trust, as a guarantee of debts, seize upon state revenues or state properties. As if the Russian looters would scruple to pawn state railways, mines, the liquor monopoly, etc.

ciples on the 4th of August: “Feudal rights abolished!” In reality, it was mere verbal fireworks, but the peasants, consciously confounding declaration with law, refused to pay all feudal dues.

No doubt, those were mere words, but they stirred revolutions.

Finally, there was more than mere words, for, availing themselves of the government’s perplexity, the French deputies boldly attacked the antiquated local institutions, substituting for the squires and magistrates communal and urban municipalities, which subsequently became the bulwarks of the revolution.

“Different times, different conditions,” we are told. Indisputably so. But the illusions precluded a clear realization of the actual conditions in Russia. Our deputies and politicians were so hypnotized by the very words “popular representatives,” and so far underestimated the strength of the old regime that no one asked the pertinent question: “What must the Russian revolution be?” However, not only the believers in the magic .power of the Duma were misguided. Our Anarchist comrades erred in assuming that the heroic efforts of a group of individuals would suffice to demolish the fortress of the old order reared by the centuries. Thousands of heroic exploits were performed, thousands of heroes perished, but the old regime has survived and still does its work of crushing the young and vigorous.

Yes, the era of illusions has terminated. The first attack is repulsed. The second attack should be prepared on a broader basis and with a fuller understanding of the foe’s strength. There can be no revolution without the participation of the masses, and all efforts should be directed toward rousing the people who alone are capable of paralyzing the armies of the old world and capturing its strongholds.

We must forge ahead with this work in every part, nook, and corner of Russia. Enough of illusions, enough of reliance on the Duma or on a handful of heroic redeemers! It is necessary to put the masses forward directly for the great work of general reconstruction. But the masses will enter the struggle only in the name of their direct fundamental needs.

The land—to the tiller; the factories, mills, railways— to the worker; everywhere, a free revolutionary commune working out its own salvation at home, not through representatives or officials in St. Petersburg.

Such should be the motive of the second period of the revolution upon which Russia is entering.

Russian Prisons

This Article first appeared in The Nineteenth Century Vol 13. No, 75 January 1883

It is pretty generally recognised in Europe, that all together our penal institutions are very far from being what they ought to be, and no better indeed than so many contradictions in the action of the modern theory of the treatment of criminals. The principle of the lex talionia—of the right of the community to avenge itself on the criminal—is no longer admissible. We. have come to an understanding that society at large is responsible for the vices that grow in it, even as it has its share in the glory of its heroes; and we generally admit, at least in theory, that when we deprive a criminal of his liberty, it is to purify and improve him. But we know how hideously at variance with the ideal the reality is. The murderer is simply handed over to the hangman; and the man who is shut up in a prison is so far from being bettered by the change, that he comes out more resolutely the foe of society than he was when he went in. Subjection, on disgraceful terms, to a humiliating work gives him an antipathy to all kinds of labour. After suffering every sort of humiliation at the instance of those whose lives are lived in immunity from the peculiar conditions which bring man to crime—or to such sorts of it as are punishable by the operations of the law—he learns to hate the section of society to which his humiliation belongs, and proves his hatred by new offences against it. And if the penal institutions of Western Europe have failed thus completely to realise the ambition on which they justify their existence, what shall we say of the penal institutions of Russia? The incredible duration of preliminary detention; the horrible circumstances of prison life; the congregation of hundreds of prisoners into dirty and small chambers; the flagrant immorality of a corps of gaolers who are practically omnipotent, whose whole function is to terrorise and oppress, and who rob their charges of the few coppers doled out to them by the State; the want of labour and the total absence of all that contributes to the moral welfare of man; the cynical contempt of human dignity, and the physical degradation of prisoners—these are the elements of prison life in Russia. Not that the principles of Russian penal institutions were worse than those applied to the same institutions in Western Europe. I am rather inclined to hold the contrary. Surely, it is less degrading for the convict to be employed in useful work in Siberia than to spend his life in picking oakum, or in climbing the steps of a wheel; and—to compare two evils—it is more humane to employ the assassin as a labourer in a gold mine and, after a few years, make a free settler of him, than peaceably to turn him over to a hangman. In Russia, however, principles are always ruined in the application. And if we consider the Russian prisons and penal settlements, not as they ought to be according to the law, but as they are in reality, we can do no less than recognise, with all the best Russian explorers of our prisons, that they are an outrage on humanity.

In England and in the United States several attempts have recently been made to represent the Russian prisons under the most smiling aspect. The best known of them are those made by the Reverend Mr Lansdell in England, and by Mr Kennan in the United States. Mr Kennan came to the conclusion that his sojourn as an officer of the Overland Telegraph Company on the shores of the Sea of Okhotsk—a few thousand miles, more or less, from the penal quarters of Siberia—entitles him to speak authoritatively about Siberian prisons and prisoners. Is it surprising that his experience should be flatly contradicted by those Russians who have seriously studied the life of prisoners in Siberia? Of Mr Lansdell there is something more to say. He has seen Siberian gaols. Outstripping the post in his career, he has crossed a country which has no railways, at a speed of 6,300 miles in 75 days; and in the space of fourteen hours, indeed, he breakfasted, he dined, he travelled over 40 miles, and he visited the three chief gaols of Siberia—at Tobolsk, at Alexandrovskiy Zavod, and at Kara. Amply furnished with official recommendations, he saw, during this short time, as much as the officials chose to show; and for a country like Siberia that is surely a great deal. Had he anything of the critical faculty which is the first virtue of a traveller, it would have enabled him to appreciate the relative value of the information he obtained in the course of his official scamper through the Siberian prisons, and his book— especially if he had taken note of existing Russian literature on the subject—might have been a useful one. Unhappily, he neither saw nor read, and his book—in so far, at least, as it is concerned with gaols and convicts—can only convey false ideas. This being the case, I think the present paper may prove of interest. Such information as it contains is, at least, authentic, inasmuch as it is derived, not only from books but from the personal experience of prison life of myself and certain of my friends.

One of the greatest results of the Liberal movement of 1857-1862 was the judicial reform. The old law-courts, in which the procedure was all in writing, were done away with, and trial by jury, which had disappeared under the despotism of the Tsars of Moscow, was re-introduced. The new law of judicial procedure, promulgated in 1864, was considered as decidedly the most liberal and humane in Europe. About the same time punishment by the knot and the branding- iron was abolished. It was high time. Public opinion was revolted by the existence of these shameful implements, and it was so powerful at that time that governors of provinces refused to confirm the sentences that enjoined their use; others—as I have known in Siberia—would give the executioner to understand that, unless he merely played at doing his abominable office (a well-known and highly profitable art), ‘his own skin should be torn to pieces.’ But, like all other reforms of the last reign, the benefits of the new judicial reform were paralysed by subsequent modifications. The reform was not made universal, and in thirty-nine provinces out of seventy-two, the old courts are still maintained. They are in operation over the whole of Siberia, for instance; and each of them is a perfect sink of corruption. Again, the old penal code, with a scale of punishments in flagrant disagreement with the present state of our prisons, was maintained; while subsequent regulations have completely altered the sense of the Judiciary Law of 1864. I shall only set down what is continually repeated in the Russian press if I write that the examining magistrates (juges d’instruction) have never enjoyed the independence bestowed on them by the new law; that the judges have been made more and more dependent upon the Minister of Justice, whose nominees they are, and who has the right of transferring them from one province to another; that the institution of sworn advocates, uncontrolled by criticism, has degenerated absolutely; and that the peasant whose case is not likely to become a cause celebre does not receive the benefit of counsel, and is completely in the hands of a creature like the procureur-imperial in Zola’s novel. Independent jurors are, of course, impossible in a country where the peasant-juror knows that he may be beaten by anything in uniform at the very doors of the court. As for the verdicts of the juries, they are in poor repute indeed; they are not respected at all if they are in contradiction with the judgment of the governor of the province, and the acquitted may be seized as they leave the dock and imprisoned anew on the simple order of the Administrative. Such, for instance, was the case of the peasant Burounoff. He came to St. Petersburg on behalf of his fellow-villagers to bring a complaint to the Tsar against the authorities, and he was tried as a ‘ rebel.’ He was acquitted by the court, but he was rearrested on the very flight of steps outside and sent in exile to the peninsula of Kola. Such, too, were the cases of Vera Zassoulitch, of the Raskolnik (nonconformist) Tetenoff, and many more. The Third Section and the governors of provinces look on the new courts as mere nuisances and act accordingly. Finally, a great many cases are disposed of by the Executive a huis doe— away from judges and juries alike. The preliminary inquiry in all cases in which a ‘ political meaning’ is discovered is simply made by gendarmerie officers, sometimes in the presence of a procurer, who accompanies them in their raids—an official in civil dress attached to the corps of the gendarmerie, who is a black sheep to his fellows, and whose function is to assist, or appear to assist, at the examination of those arrested by the Third Section. Sentence and punishment (which may be exile for life within the Arctic circle in Siberia) are the wish of the Third Section, or of the Executive. In this category are included, not only the cases of political offenders belonging to secret societies, but also those of religious dissenters ; almost all cases of disobedience to authority, both individual and collective; the strikes; the ‘ offences against His Majesty the Emperor’—under which 2,500 people were recently arrested in the course of six months; in short, all those cases which might compromise the authorities, or tend—to use the official language—’ to the production of excitement in the public mind.’ As to political trials, only the early societies were tried under the law of 1864. Afterwards, the government having perceived that the judges are rather well disposed than otherwise towards political offenders, they were tried before packed courts; that is, by judges nominated especially for the purpose. To this rule the case of Vera Zassoulitch was a memorable exception. She was tried by a jury, and acquitted. But—to quote Professor Gradovsky’s words in a journal suppressed since—’ It is an open secret in St. Petersburg that the case would never have been brought before a jury but for certain ” quarrels ” between the Prefect of Police on the one side, and the Third Section and the Ministers of Justice and the Interior on the other—but for certain of those jalousies de metier, without which, in our disordered state of existence, it would often be impossible for us to so much as breathe.’

It need hardly be noted that true reports of political trials in the press were never permitted. Formerly the journals were bound to reproduce the ‘ cooked’ report published by the Official Messenger; but now the Government has perceived that even such reports produce a profound impression on the public mind, which is always favourable to the accused ; and now its work is done in complete darkness. By the law of September 1881 the governor-general and the governors of provinces are enabled to request’ that all those cases be heard in camera which might produce a disturbance of minds (sic) or disturb the public peace.’ For preventing the divulgation of the speeches of the accused, or of such facts as might compromise the Government, nobody is admitted to the court, not even members of the Ministry of Justice—’only the wife or the husband of the accused (always in custody also), or the father, mother, or one of the children; but no more than one relative for each person accused.’ At the last trial of Terrorists, when ten people were condemned to death, the mother of Sukhanoff was the one person who enjoyed this privilege. Many cases are despatched in such a way that nobody knows when the trials take place. Thus, for instance, we remained in ignorance of the fate of an officer of the army, son of the governor of the gaol of the St. Petersburg fortress, who had been condemned to hard labour for connection with revolutionists, until we learned it incidentally from an act of accusation read at a trial a long while posterior to his own. The public learns from the Official Messenger that the Tsar has commuted to hard labour for life a sentence of death pronounced on revolutionists ; but nothing transpires either of the trial, or of the crimes imputed to the condemned. Nay, even the last consolation of those condemned to death, the consolation of dying publicly, was taken away. Hanging will now be done secretly within the walls of the fortress, in the presence of none from the world without. The reason is, that when Ryssakoff was brought out to the gallows he showed the crowd his mutilated hands, and shouted, louder than the drums, that he had been tortured after trial. His words were heard by a group of ‘ Liberals,’ who, repudiating any sympathy with the Terrorists, yet held it their duty to publish the facts of the case in a clandestine proclamation, and to call attention to this flagrant offence against the laws of humanity. Now nothing will be known of what happens in the casemates of the fortress of Paul and Peter after the trial and before the execution. At least, the Government think so, after having sent to hard labour the son of a gaoler and a dozen soldiers accused of letter-carry ing between prisoners and their friends in the town. But we know—and I have not the slightest hesitation in asserting the fact—that at least two revolutionists, Adrian Mikhailoff and Eyssakoff, were submitted to torture by electricity.

In 1861, our governors of provinces were ordered to institute a general inquiry into the state of the prisons. The Government— that of the early years of Alexander II.—was Liberal at that time, and on the whole the inquiry was fairly made. Its results determined what was generally known : namely, that the prisons in Russia and Siberia were in the worst state imaginable. The number of prisoners in each was commonly twice and thrice in excess of the maximum allowed by law. The buildings were so old and dilapidated, and in such a shocking state of filth, as to be for the most part not only uninhabitable, but beyond the scope of any theory of reform that stopped short of reconstruction.

Within affairs were even worse than without. The system was found corrupt to the core, and the officials were even yet more in need of improvement than the gaols. In the Transbaikal province, where, at that time, almost all hard-labour convicts were kept, the committee of inquiry reported (I was secretary to it, and entrusted with the drawing up of its report) that the prison buildings were mostly in ruins, and that the whole of the penal system had followed suit. Throughout the Empire it was recognised that theory and

practice stood equally in need of light and air; that everything must be changed, alike in matter and in spirit; and that we must not only rebuild our prisons, but completely reform our prison system, and reconstitute the prison staff from the first man to the last. The Government, however, elected to do nothing. It built a few new prisons which proved insufficient to accommodate the new prisoners (the population having since increased by more than 10,000,000); convicts were farmed out to proprietors of private gold mines; a new penal colony was settled on Sakhalin, to colonise an island where nobody was willing to settle freely; and that was all. The old order remained unchanged, the old mischief unrepaired. Year after year the prisons fall further into decay, and year after year the prison staff grows more dishonest and more shameless. Year after year the Ministry of Justice applies for money to spend in repairs, and year after year the Government is content to put it off with’the half, or less than the half, of what it asks ; and when—as in 1879 to 1881—it calls for over three million roubles, can spare it no more than a paltry twelve hundred thousand. The consequence is that the gaols are becoming permanent centres / of infection, and that, according to the report of a recent committee, at least two-thirds of them are urgently in need of being rebuilt from top to bottom. Rightly to accommodate her prisoners, Russia would have to build half as many prisons again as she has. Indeed, in 1879, there were 70,488 cases for trial, and the aggregate maximum capacity of the Russian prisons is only for 54,253 souls. In single gaols, built for the detention of 200 to 250 persons, the number of prisoners is commonly 700 and 800 at a time. In the prisons on the route to Siberia, when convict parties are stopped by floods, the overcrowding is still more monstrous.<ref>The Russian prison system is thus constituted : First of all, we have 624 prisons or lock-ups, for cases awaiting trial, for a maximum of 51,253 inmates, together with four houses of detention for 1,134 inmates. The political prisons at the Third Section and in the fortresses are not included in this category. Of convict depots—for prisoners waiting transfer to their final stations—there are 10, with accommodation for 7,150; with two for political convicts (at Mtsensk and Vyshniy-Volochok), with accommodation for 140. Then come the arrettantskiya. raty, or ‘ convict companies,’ which are military organisations for the performance of compulsory labour, and which are worse than the hard-labour prisons in Siberia, though they are nominally a lighter punishment. Of these there are 33, with accommodation for 7,136 (9,609 in 1879). In this category must be included also the 13 ‘houses of correction:’ two large ones with accommodation for 1,120 (962 in 1879), and 11 smaller ones for 435. The hard-labour cases are provided for in 13 ‘ central prisons.’ Of these, there are seven in Russia, with accommodation for 2,745; three in Western. Siberia, with accommodation for 1,150 ; two in Eastern Siberia, with accommodation for 1,650 ; and one on Sakhalin Island, with accommodation for 600 (1,103 in 1879). Other hard-labour convicts—10,424 in number—are distributed among the Government mines, gold-washings, and factories in Siberia; namely, at the Kara gold- washings, where there are 2,000; at the Troitsk, Ust-Kut, and Irkutsk salt-works, at the Nikolayevsk and Petrovsk iron-works, and at a prison at the former silver-works of Akutui. Finally, hard-labour convicts are farmed out to private owners of gold-washings in Siberia. The severity of the punishment can thus be varied ad infinitnm, according to the wish of the authorities and to that degree of revenge which is deemed appropriate.</ref>

The great majority of our prisoners (about 100,000) are persons I awaiting trial. They may be recognised for innocent; and in Russia, where arrests are made in the most haphazard way, three times out of ten their innocence is patent to everybody. We learn, in fact, from the annual report of the Ministry of Justice for 1876., that of 99,964 arrests made during that year, only 37,159—that is, 37 per cent.—could be brought before a court, and that among these were 12,612 acquittals. More than 75,000 persons were thus subjected to arrest and imprisonment without having any serious charge against them ; and of the 25.000 or so who were convicted and converted into ‘ criminals,’ a very large proportion (about 15 per cent.) are men and women who have not complied with passport regulations, or with some other vexatory measure of our Administration. It must be noted that all these prisoners, three quarters of whom are recognised innocent, spend months, and very often years, in the provincial lockups, those famous ostroga which the traveller sees at the entrance of every Russian town. They lie there idle and hopeless, at the mercy of a set of omnipotent gaolers, packed like I herrings in a cask, in rooms of inconceivable foulness, in an atmosphere that sickens, even to insensibility, any one entering directly from the open air, and which is charged with the emanations of the horrible parasha—a basket kept in the room to serve the necessities of a hundred human beings.

In this connection I cannot do better than quote a few passages from the prison experiences of my friend Madame C , nee Koutouzoff, who has committed them to paper and inserted in a Russian review, the Obscheye Dyelo, published at Geneva. She was found guilty of opening a school for peasants’ children, independently of the Ministry of Public Instruction. As her crime was not penal, and as, moreover, she was married to a foreigner, General Gourko merely ordered her to be sent over the frontier. This is how she describes her journey from St. Petersburg to Prussia. I shall print extracts from her narrative without comment, merely premising that its accuracy, even to the minutest detals, is absolutely unimpeachable :—

I was sent to Vilno with fifty prisoners—men and women. From the railway station we were taken to the town prison and kept there for two hours, late at night, in an open yard, under a drenching rain. At last we were pushed into a dark corridor and counted. Two soldiers laid hold on me and insulted me shamefully. I was not the only one thus outraged, for in the darkness I heard the cries of many desperate women besides. After many oaths and much foul language, the fire was lighted, and I found myself in a spacious room in which it was impossible to take a step in any direction without treading on the women who were sleeping on the floor. Two women who occupied a bed took pity on me, and invited me to share it with them. . . . When I awoke next morning, I was still suffering from the scenes of yesterday; but the female prisoners—assassins and thieves—were so kind to me that by-and-by I grew calm. Next night we were ‘ turned out’ from the prison and paraded in the yard for the start, under a heavy rain. I do not know how I happened to escape the fists of the gaolers, as the prisoners did not understand the evolutions and performed them under a storm of blows and curses; those who protested—saying that they ought not to be beaten—were put in irons and sent to the train, in the teeth of the law which sa3*8 that in the cellular wnggons no prisoner shall be chained.

Arrived at Kovno, we spent the whole day in going from one police station to another. In the evening we were taken to the prison for women, where the lady-superintendent was railing against the head gaoler and swearing that she would give him bloody toeth. The prisoners told me that she often kept her promises of this sort. . . . Here I spent a week among murderesses, thieves, and women arrested by mistake. Misfortune unites the unfortunate, and everybody tried to make life more tolerable for the rest; all were very kind to me and did their best to console me. On the previous day I had eaten nothing, for the day the prisoners are brought to the prison they receive no food; so I fainted from hunger, and the prisoners gave me of their bread and were as land as they could be; the female inspector, however, was on duty: she was shouting out such shameless oaths as few drunken men would use. . . . After a week’s stay in Kovno, I was sent on foot to the next town. After three days’ march we came to Mariampol; my feet were wounded, and my stocking’s full of blood. The soldiers advised me to ask for a car, but I preferred physical suffering to the continuous cursing and foul language of the chiefs. All the same, they took me before their commander, and he remarked that I had walked three days and so could walk a fourth. We came next day to Wolkowysk, from whence we were to be sent on to Prussia. I and five others were put provisionally in the dep6t. The women’s department was in ruins, so we were taken to the men’s. … I did not know what to do, as there was no place to sit down, except on the dreadfully filthy floor: there was even no straw, and the stench on the floor set me vomiting instantly. . . . The water- closet was a large pond ; it had to be crossed on a broken ladder which gave way under one of us and plunged him in the filth below. I could now understand the smell: the pond goes under the building, the floor of which is impregnated with sewage.

Here I spent two days and two nights, passing the whole time at the window. … In the night the doors were opened, and, with dreadful cries, drunken prostitutes were thrown into our room. They also brought us a maniac; he was quite naked. The miserable prisoners were happy on such occurrences; they tormented the maniac and reduced him to despair, until at last he fell on the floor in a fit and lay there foaming at the mouth. On the third day, a soldier of the depot, a Jew, took me into his room, a tiny cell, where I stayed with his wife. . . . The prisoners told me that many of them were detained ‘ by mistake’ for seven and eight months awaiting their papers before being sent across the frontier. It is easy to imagine their condition after a seven months’ stay in this sewer without a change of linen. They advised me to give the gaoler money, as he would then send me on to Prussia immediately. But I had been six weeks on the way already, and my letters had not reached my people. … At last, the soldier allowed me to go to the post-office with his wife, and I sent a registered letter to St. Petersburg. [Madame C has influential kinsfolk in the capital, and in a few days the governor- general telegraphed for her to be sent on instantly to Prussia.] My papers (she says) were discovered immediately, and I was sent to Eydtkunen and set at liberty.

It must be owned that the picture is horrible. But it ia not a whit overcharged. To such of us Russians as have had to do -with prisoners, every word rings true and every scene looks normal. Oaths, filth, brutality, bribery, blows, hunger—these are the essentials of every ostrog and of every depot from Kovno to Kamchatka, and from Arkhangel to Eraerum. Did my space permit, I might prove it with a hundred stories more.

Such are the prisons of Western Russia. They are no better in the East and in the South. A person who was confined at Perm (it is a pity that Mr. Lansdell, when arrested in August hist under suspicion of Nihilism, in the neighbourhood of Perm, did not make acquaintance with this prison.!) wrote to the Poraddk :—’The gaoler is one Gavriloff; . . . beating ” in the jaws ” (v mordu), flogging, confinement in frozen black-holes, and starvation—such are the characteristics of the gaol. . . . For every complaint the prisoners are sent ” to the bath ” (that is, are flogged), or have a taste of the black- hole. . . . The mortality is dreadful.’ At Vladimir, there were so many attempts at escape that it was made the subject of a special inquiry. ‘ The prisoners declared that on the allowance they received it was utterly impossible to keep body and soul together. Many complaints were addressed to headquarters, but they all remained unanswered. At last the prisoners complained to the Moscow Superior Court; but the gaoler got to hear of the matter^ instituted a search, and took possession of the document.’ It is easy to imagine that the mortality must be immense in such prisons; but, surely, the reality supersedes all that might be imagined. Thus, the priest of the Kharkoff prison said in 1878 from the pulpit, and the Eparchial Gazette of 1869 reproduced the fact, that in the course of four months, of the 500 inmates of the prison two hundred died from scurvy. No Arctic expedition, recent or remote, was so mortal as the detention in a Russian prison. At Kieff, the gaol was a sink of typhus fever. In one month the deaths were counted by hundreds, and fresh batches were brought in to fill the room of those removed by death. This was in all the newspapers. Only a year afterwards (June 12, . 1882) a circular from the Chief Board of Prisons explained the epidemics as follows:—’ 1. The prison was dreadfully overcrowded, although it was very easy to transfer many of the prisoners to other prisons. 2. The rooms were very damp; the walls were covered with mildew, and the floor was rotten in many places; 3. The cesspools were in such a state that the ground about them was impregnated with sewage ;’ and so on, and so on. The Board added that owing to the same foulness other prisons were also exposed to experience the same epidemics.

The chief prison in St. Petersburg, the so-called ‘Litovskiy Zamok,’ is cleaner ; but this old-fashioned, damp, and dark building should simply be levelled to the ground. The common prisoners have a certain amount of work to do. But the political ones are kept in their cells in absolute idleness ; and some friends of mine—the heroes of the trial of 193 who had two years and more of this prison— describe it as one of the worst they know. The cells are very small, very dark, and very damp; and the gaoler Makaroff was a wild beast pure and simple. The consequences of solitary confinement in this prison I have described in a former paper. It is worthy of notice that the common allowance for food is seven kopeks per day, and 10 kopeks for prisoners of privileged classes, the price of black rye bread being three and four kopeks a pound.

But the pride of our authorities—the show-place for the foreign visitors—is the new ‘ House of Detention’ at St. Petersburg. It is a ‘ model prison,’—the only one of its kind in Russia,—built on the plan of the Belgian gaols. I know it from personal experience, as I was detained there for three months, before my transfer to the lockup at the Military Hospital. It is the only clean gaol for common prisoners in Russia. Clean it certainly is. The scrubbing-brush is never idle there, and the activity of broom and pail is almost demoniac. It is an exhibition, and the prisoners have to keep it shining. All morning long do they sweep, and scrub, and polish the asphalte floor ; and dearly have they to pay for its brightness. The atmosphere is charged with asphaltic particles (I made a paper-shade for my gas, and in a few hours I could draw patterns with my finger in the dust with which it was coated); and this you have to breathe. The three upper stories receive all the exhalations of the floors below, and the ventilation is so bad that in the evenings, when all doors are shut, the place is literally suffocating. Two or three special committees were appointed one after the other to find out the means of improving the ventilation; and the last one, under the presidency of M. Groth, Secretary of State, reported in June last that to be made habitable, the whole building (which has cost twice as much as similar prisons in Belgium and Germany) must be completely rebuilt, as no repairs, however thorough, could make the ventilation tolerable. The cells are ten feet long and seven feet wide ; and at one time the prison rules obliged us to keep open the traps in our doors to the end that we might not be asphyxiated where we sat. Afterwards the rule was cancelled, and the traps were shut, and we were compelled to face as best we could the effects of a temperature that was sometimes stiflingly hot and sometimes freezing. But for the greater activity and life of the place, I should have regretted, all dark and dripping as it was, my casemate in the fortress of Peter and Paul—a true grave where the prisoner for two, three, five, ten years hears no human voice and sees no human being, excepting two or three gaolers, deaf and mute when addressed by the prisoners. I shall never forget the children I met one day in the corridor of the House of Detention. They also, like us, were awaiting trial months and years along. Their greyish- yellow emaciated faces, their frightened and bewildered looks, were worth whole volumes of essays and reports ‘ on the benefits of cellular

confinement in a model prison.’ As for the administration of the House of Detention, sufficient to say that even the Russian papers talked openly of the way in which the prisoners’ allowances were sequestrated ; so that last year, a committee of inquiry was appointed, when it was found that the facts were even darker than had been reported. But all this is a trifle, indeed, in comparison with the treatment of prisoners. Here it was that General Trepoff ordered Bogo- luboff to be flogged, had the prisoners who protested in their cells knocked down and beaten, and afterwards confined several of them— for five days—in cells by the washing-rooms, among excrements, and in a temperature of forty-five degrees. In the face of these facts, what a pitiful irony is in the words of Mr. Lansdell’s admiring remark :—’ Those who wish to know what Russia can do, ought to visit this House of Detention’!

The great variety of punishments inflicted under our penal code may be divided broadly into four categories. The first is that of hard labour, with the loss of all civil rights. The convict’s property passes to his heirs ; he is dead in law, and his wife can marry another; he may be flogged with rods, or with the plete (cat-o’-nine-tails) ad libitum by each drunken gaoler. After having been kept to hard labour in the Siberian mines, or factories, he is settled for life somewhere in the country. The second category is that of compulsory colonisation, accompanied by a complete or partial loss of civil rights, and is equivalent to Siberia for life. Under the third category are dealt with all convicts condemned to compulsory labour in the arres- tantskiya roty, without loss of civil rights. The fourth—omitting much of less importance—is of banishment to Siberia, without trial, and by order of the Executive, for an undetermined period ; that is, mostly for life.

The subject of Siberian exile is so vast and tragical in itself, and has given rise to such an amount of error and misrepresentation, that it would be idle to approach it in this place. On a future occasion I hope to discuss it at length. In the present paper, however, I shall confine myself to an account of such convicts as are detained in Russia itself, in the so-called Provisory Central Prisons.

These are but recently introduced. Formerly, the hard labour convicts were sent straight off to Siberia: to the mines belonging ‘ to the Cabinet of the Emperor ‘—that are, in other words, the private property of the Crown. Some of these, however, got worked out; others were found (or represented) so unremunerative in the hands of the Crown administration that they were sold to private persons who made fortunes with them ; and Russia in Europe was compelled to take charge of her hard labour cases herself. A few central prisons were therefore built in Russia, where convicts are kept for a time (one third to one fourth of their sentence) before being sent to Siberia or Sakhalin. Society at large is of course inclined to regard hard labour convicts as the worst of criminals. But in Russia this is very far from being the case. Murder, robbery, burglary, forgery, will all bring a man to hard labour; but so, too, with an attempt at suicide ; so with ‘ sacrilege and blasphemy,’ which usually means no more than dissent; so with ‘ rebellion’—or rather what is called rebellion in Russia—which is mostly no more than common disobedience to authorities; so with any and every sort of political offence; and so with ‘ vagrancy,’ that mostly means escape from Siberia. Among the murderers, too, you will find not only the professional shedder of blood—a very rare type with us—but men who have taken life under such circumstances as, before a jury, or in the hands of a honest advocate, would have ensured their acquittal. In any case, only 30 per cent. or so of the 2,000 to 2,500 men and women yearly sent down to hard labour are condemned as assassins. The rest—in nearly equal proportions—are either ‘ vagrants ‘ or men and women charged with one of the minor offences recapitulated above.

The Central Prisons were instituted with the idea of inflicting a punishment of the severest type. The idea was—there can, I am afraid, be no doubt about it—that you could not take too little trouble with convicts, nor get rid of them too soon. To this end these prisons were provided with such gaolers and keepers—mostly military officers —as were renowned for cruelty with men; and these ruffians were gifted with full power over their charges and with full liberty of action, and had orders to be as harsh as possible. The end to which they were appointed has been magnificently attained: the Central I Prisons are so many practical hells; the horrors of hard labour in Siberia have faded before them, and all those who have the experience of them are unanimous in declaring that the day a prisoner starts for Siberia is the happiest of his life.

Exploring these prisons as a ‘ distinguished visitor,’ you will, if you are in search of emotions, be egregiously disappointed. You will see no more than a dirty building, crammed with idle inmates lounging and sprawling on the sloping, inclined platforms which run round the walls, and are covered with nothing but a sheet of filth. You may be permitted to visit a number of cells for ‘ secret’ or political cases ; and if you question the inmates, you will certainly be told by them that they are ‘ quite satisfied with everything.’ To know the reality one must oneself have been a prisoner. Records of actual experience are few; but they exist, and to one of the most striking I propose to refer. It was written by an officer who was condemned to hard labour for an assault committed in a moment of excitement, and who was pardoned by the Tsar after a few years’ detention. His story was published in a Conservative review (the Russkaya Ryech, for January 1882) at a time, under Loris-MelikofFs administration, when there was much talk of prison reform and some liberty in the press ; and there was not a journal that did not recognise the unimpeachable veracity of this tale. The experience of our friends wholly confirms it.

There is nothing uncommon in the account of the material circumstances of life in this Central Prison. They are in some sort invariable all over Russia. If we know that the gaol was built for 250 inmates, and actually contained 400, we do not need to inquire more about sanitary conditions. In like manner, the food was neither better nor worse than elsewhere. Seven kopeks (l|d.) a day is a very poor allowance per prisoner, and the gaoler and econome being family men, of course they save as much as they can. A quarter of a pound of black rye bread for breakfast; a soup made of bull’s heart and liver or of seven pounds of meat, twenty pounds of waste oats, twenty pounds of sour cabbage, and plenty of water— many Russian prisoners would consider it as an enviable food. The moral conditions of life are not so satisfying. All day long there is nothing to do—for weeks, and months, and years on end. There are workshops, it is true; but to these only skilled craftsmen (whose achievement is the prison-keeper’s perquisite) are admitted. For the others there is neither work, nor hope of work—unless it is in stormy weather, when the governor may set one half of them to shovel the snow into heaps, and the other half to shovel it flat again. The blank monotony of their lives is only varied by chastisement. In the particular prison of which I am writing, the punishments were varied and ingenious. For smoking, and minor offences of that sort, a prisoner could get a two hours’ kneeling on the bare flags, in a spot —the thoroughfare of icy winter winds—selected diligently ad hoc. The next punishment for the same minor offences was the black- holes—the warm one, and the cold one, underground, with a temperature at freezing point. In both, prisoners slept on the stones, and the term of durance depended on the will of the governor.

‘ Several of us,’ says our author,’ were kept there for a fortnight; after which they were literally dragged out into daylight and then dismissed to the land where pain and suffering are not.’ Is it any wonder that during the four years over which the writer’s experience extends, the average mortality in the prison should have been thirty per cent. per annum ? ‘ It must not be thought,’ the writer goes on to say, ‘ that those on whom penalties of this sort were inflicted were hardened desperadoes; we incurred them if we saved a morsel of bread from dinner for the supper, or if a match was found on a prisoner.’

The ‘ desperadoes ‘ were treated after another fashion. One, for instance, was kept for nine months in solitary confinement in a dark cell—originally intended for cases of ophthalmia—and came out all but blind and mad. There is worse behind.

In the evening (he continues) the governor went his rounds and usually began his favourite occupation—flogging. A very narrow bench was brought out, and soon the place resounded with shrieks, while the governor, smoking a cigar, looked on and counted the lashes. The birch-rods were of exceptional size, and when not in visa were kept immersed in water to make them more pliant. After the tenth lash the shrieking ceased, and nothing was heard but groans. Flogging was usually applied in batches, to five, ten men, or more, and when the execution was over, a great pool of blood would remain to mark the spot. Our neighbours without the walla used at these times to pass to the other side of the street, signing themselves in horror and dread. After every such scene we had two or three days of comparative peace; for the flogging had a soothing influence on the governor’s nerves. He soon, however, became himself again. When he was very drunk, and his left moustache was dropping and limp, or when he went out shooting. and came home with an empty bag, we knew that that same evening the rods would be set at work.

After this it is unnecessary to speak about many other revolting details of life in the same prison. But there is a touch that foreign visitors would do well to lay to heart.

On one occasion (the writer says) we were visited by an inspector of prisons. After casting a look down the scuttle, he asked us if our food was good ? or was there anything of which we could complain ? Not only did the inmates declare that they were completely satisfied, they even enumerated articles of diet which we had never so much as smelt. . . . This sort of thing (he adds) is only natural. If complaints were made, the inspector would lecture the governor a little and go- away ; while the prisoners who made them would remain behind and be paid for their temerity with the rod or the black-hole.

The prison in question is close by St. Petersburg. What more remote provincial prisons are like, my readers may imagine. I have mentioned above those of Perm and Kharkoff; and, according to the Golos, the Central Prison at Simbirsk is a centre of peculation and thievery. Friends of mine report the same of the second Central Prison of the government of Kharkoff, where political convicts are detained. These latter are far worse off than their companions, the criminals. They are kept for three to five years in solitary confinement and in irons, in dark, damp cells that measure only ten feet by six, absolutely isolated from any intercourse with human beings. Knowing by two years and a half of personal experience what solitary confinement is, I do not hesitate to say that, as practised in Russia, it is one of the cruellest tortures man can suffer. The prisoner’s health, however robust, is irreparably ruined. Military science teaches that in a beleaguered garrison which has been for several months on short rations, the mortality increases beyond any measure. This is still more true of men in solitary confinement. The want of fresh air, the lack of exercise for body and mind, the habit of silence, the absence of those thousand and one impressions which, when at liberty, we daily and hourly receive, the fact that we are open to no impressions that are not imaginative—all these combine to make solitary confinement a sure and cruel form of murder. If conversation with neighbour prisoners (by means of light knocks on the wall) is possible, it is a relief, the immensity of which can be duly appreciated only by one who was reduced for one or two years to absolute separation from all humanity. But it is also a new source of sufferings, as very often your own moral sufferings are increased by those you experience from witnessing day by day the growing madness of your neighbour, when you perceive in each of his messages the dreadful images that beset and overrun his tormented brain. That is the kind of confinement to which political prisoners are submitted when awaiting trial for three or four years. But it is still worse after the condemnation when they are brought to the Kharkoff Central Prison. Not only the cells are darker and damper than elsewhere, and the food is worse than common (the allowance being five farthings a day) ; but, in addition, the prisoners are carefully maintained in absolute idleness. No books are allowed, and, of course, no writing materials, and no implements for manual labour. No means of easing the tortured mind, nor anything on which to concentrate the morbid activity of the brain; and, in proportion as the body droops and sickens, the spirit becomes wilder and more desperate. Physical suffering is seldom or never insupportable; the annals of war, of martyrdom, of sickness, abound in instances in proof. But moral torment—after years of infliction—is utterly intolerable. This our friends have found to their cost. Shut up in the fortresses and houses of detention first of all, and afterwards in the Central Prisons, they go rapidly to decay, and either go calmly to the grave, or become lunatics. They do not go mad as, after being outraged by

gendarmes, Miss M , the promising young painter, went mad.

She was bereft of reason instantly ; her madness was simultaneous with her shame. Upon them insanity steals gradually and slowly: the mind rots in the body ‘ from hour to hour.’

In July 1878 the life of the prisoners at the Kharkoff prison had become so insupportable, that six of them resolved to starve themselves to death. For a whole week they refused to eat; and when the governor-general ordered them to be fed by injection, such scenes ensued as obliged the prison authorities to abandon the idea. To seduce them back to life, officialism made them certain promises: as, for instance, to allow them walking exercise, and to take the sick out of irons. None of these promises were kept; and for five long years the survivors were left to the mercy of such a gaoler as I have described. A few months ago a first party of our friends detained in Central Prisons were sent to the Kara mines (to make a total of 154 political prisoners, men and women, at these mines); they knew very well the fate that was reserved to them in Siberia, and still the day they left this hell was considered by all them as a happy day of deliverance. After the Central Prison, hard labour in Siberia looks as a paradise.

It may seem that the harshness of solitary confinement in such conditions cannot be surpassed. But there is a harder fate in store for political prisoners in Russia. After the ‘ Trial of the Sixteen ‘ (November 1880), Europe learned with satisfaction that out of five condemned to death, three had had their sentences commuted by the Tsar. We now know what commutation means. Instead of being sent to Siberia, or to a Central Prison, according to law, they were immured in the fortress of Peter and Paul at St. Petersburg, in cells contrived in what has been the ravelin.<ref>The authentic record of their imprisonment was published in the last number of the Will of the People, and reproduced in the publication fra Rodin ye (‘ At Home’).</ref> These are so dark that candles are burnt in them for twenty-two hours out of the twenty- four. The walls are literally dripping with damp, and ‘ there are pools of water on the floor.’ ‘ Not only books are disallowed, but everything that might help to occupy the attention. Zoubkovsky made geometrical figures with his bread, to practise geometry; they were immediately taken away, the gaoler saying that hard-labour convicts were not permitted to amuse themselves.’ To render solitary confinement still more insupportable, a gendarme and a soldier are stationed within the cells. The gendarme is continually on the watch, and if the prisoner looks at anything or at any point, he goes to see what has attracted his attention. The horrors of solitary confinement are thus aggravated tenfold.. The quietest prisoner soon begins to hate the spies set over him, and is moved to frenzy by the mere fact of their presence. It is superfluous to add that the slightest disobedience is punished by blows and black-holes. All who were subjected to this regime fell ill in no time. After less than one year of it, Shiryaeff had taken consumption; Okladsky—a robust and vigorous working man, whose remarkable speech to the Court was reproduced by the London papers—had gone mad; Tikhonoff, a strong man likewise, was down with scurvy, and could not sit up in his bed. By a mere ‘ commutation of sentence’ the three were brought to death’s door in a single year. Of the other five condemned to hard labour, and immured in the same fortress, two—Martynovsky and Tsukermann—went mad, and in that state were constantly black-holed, so that Martynovsky at last attempted suicide.

I cannot enter here into more details and give more facts to illustrate the fate of political and common law convicts in Russia. The foregoing give, however, some idea of it. The whole is summed up in a sentence of that record of prison life on which I have already drawn so largely and to such terrible purpose.

In conclusion (writes the author) I must add that the prison now rejoices in another governor. The old one quarrelled with the treasurer on the subject of peculation from the prisoners’ allowance, and in the end they were both dismissed. The new governor is not such a ruffian as his predecessor; I understand, however, that with him the prisoners are starving far more than formerly, and that he is in the habit of giving his fists full play on the countenances of his charges.

This remark sums up the whole ‘ Reform of Prisons’ in Russia. One tyrant may be dismissed, but he will be succeeded by some one as bad, or even worse, than himself. It is not by changing a few men, but only by changing completely from top to bottom the whole system, that any amelioration can be made; and such is also the conclusion of a special committee recently appointed by the Government. But it would be mere self-delusion to conceive improvement possible under such a regime as we now enjoy. At least half a dozen commissions have already gone forth to inquire, and all have come to the conclusion that unless the Government is prepared to meet extraordinary expenses, our prisons must remain what they are. But honest and capable men are far more needed than money, and these the present Government cannot and will not discover. They exist in Eussia, and they exist in great numbers; but their services are not required. Mr. Lansdell knew one, and has described him—Colonel Kononovitch, chief of the penal settlement at Kara. He has told us how, without any expense to the Crown, M. Kononovitch had repaired the weatherworn, rotten buildings, and had made them more or less habitable; and how, with the microscopic means at his disposal, he contrived to improve the food; and all he has told is true. But Mr. LansdelFs praise, together with like praise contained in a letter intercepted on its way from Siberia, were sufficient reasons for rendering M. Kononovitch suspicious to our Government. He immediately was dismissed, and his successor received the order to reintroduce the iron rule of years past. The political convicts, who enjoyed a relative liberty after the legal term of imprisonment had expired, are in irons once more; not all, however, as two have preferred to commit suicide ; and once more affairs are ordered as the Government desires to see them. Another gentleman, of whom Mr. Lansdell speaks, and justly, in high terms— General Pedashenko—has been dismissed too, for refusing to confirm a sentence of death which had been passed by a military tribunal on the convict Schedrin, found guilty of striking an officer for insulting two ladies, his fellow sufferers, Bogomolets and Kovalsky.

It is everywhere the same. To devote oneself to any educational work, or to the convict population, is inevitably to incur dismissal and disgrace. Near St. Petersburg we have a reformatory—a penal settlement for children and growing lads. To the cause of these poor creatures a gentleman named Herd—grandson of the famous Scotchman employed by Alexander I. in the reform of our prisons—had devoted himself body and soul. He had an abundance of energy and charm; his whole heart was in the work; he might have rivalled Pestalozzi. Under his ennobling influence boy- thieves and ruffians, penetrated with all the vices of the streets and the lockups, learned to be men in the best sense of the word. To send a boy away from the common labour-grounds or from the classes was the greatest punishment admitted in this penal colony, which soon became a real model colony. But men like Herd are not the men our Government is in ‘need of. He was dismissed his place, and the institution he ruled so wisely has become a genuine Russian prison, complete to the rod and the black-hole.

These examples are typical both of what we have to Buffer and of what we have to expect. It is a fancy to imagine that anything could be reformed in our prisons. Our prisons are the reflection of the whole of our life under the present regime; and they will remain what they are now until the whole of our system of government and the whole of our life have undergone a thorough change. Then, but only then, ‘ Russia may show what it can realise;’ but this, with regard to crime, would be—I hope—quite different from what is now understood under the name of ‘ a good prison.’

Kropotkin the Biologist

By Tom Ireland

This essay originally appeared in The Biologist

Peter Alexeyevich Kropotkin was born in Moscow in 1842 to a family of Russian aristocrats. At a time when Russia’s archaic feudal system was creaking under pressure to reform, the Kropotkin family ‘owned’ nearly 1,200 peasant labourers, or serfs. According to his memoirs, the young Kropotkin’s life was one of lavish feasts, country retreats, horse-drawn sledges, and parlour games in ‘jewel-covered costumes’. 

Half a century later Kropotkin would be a celebrated anarchist philosopher who had spent many years in exile in remote communes or disguised as a peasant.

However, he was also a naturalist and biologist who made an important contribution to the controversial theory that society was still trying to understand and interpret – evolution by natural selection.

As a young man Kropotkin excelled in exactly the sort of career path expected of him, attending an elite military academy in St Petersburg and rising to various senior positions in the army of the Russian emperor, Alexander II. However, Kropotkin, like many of his generation, was becoming disillusioned by the cruelty of serfdom and imperial rule in Russia. He secretly began reading and writing for revolutionary journals and newspapers.

Peter Kropotkin 1864
Kropotkin in 1864. He served in various senior military and state positions during the reign of Alexander II, before moving into a role that allowed him to join geographical expeditions to Siberia. 

An opportunity arose for him to take a government role that would require him to travel to a recently annexed corner of eastern Siberia, one of the most inhospitable and far-flung regions of the Russian empire. According to Kropotkin biographer Oren Harman, it would become his polar version of Darwin’s voyage aboard the Beagle[2]..

Kropotkin was away for five years and travelled 50,000 miles, mostly on horseback and with few possessions.

He at first intended to work on a geological theory of mountain chains and high plateaus but was also keen to find evidence of Darwin’s theory of evolution, published in 1859. As well as being fascinated by the theory, he was aghast that philosophers and politicians were increasingly misusing Wallace and Darwin’s concept of ‘survival of the fittest’ to justify the horrors of slavery, poverty and war in their own countries.

Such ideologies exaggerated the degree to which evolution was driven by conflict between members of the same species, Kropotkin believed. It “raised the pitiless struggle for personal advantage to the height of a biological principle,” he wrote  [3] .

In his travels through the Siberian wilderness Kropotkin saw little to no conflict between animals of the same species. What he did see, everywhere, was collaboration: wolves hunting in packs, birds helping one another feed or stay warm, deer finding new pastures in unison, horses forming defensive formations against predators. “Wherever I saw animal life in abundance, I saw mutual aid and mutual support ”, he wrote.

Siberia2
Kropotkin embarked on epic surveys of eastern Russia and Siberia. Although he was expected to help enact administrative reforms in the far-flung region, he soon began to focus on his scientific studies. 

Kropotkin initially wondered if nature in Siberia was just different to that in the rest of the world.

Darwin and Wallace had formed their theory through studying nature in the “shrieking hullabaloo of the tropics” [2], and in this land of brutal winters, where snow storms would glaze the vast, featureless tundra in miles of ice, collaboration rather than conflict seemed to be the best strategy for survival.

In On the Origin of Species, Darwin had recognised that “the struggle for life” could be a battle against any number of things, from competition with members of one’s own species or attacks from predators to a lack of nutrients or damage from the elements. Naturalists before Kropotkin had also noted many instances of animals co-operating, from social insects to packs of dogs. Darwin’s grandfather, Erasmus, had written in the previous century about how the common crab stations ‘sentinels’ to guard fellow crabs that are moulting and therefore vulnerable.

However, Kropotkin wanted to ensure the significance of co-operation in “the struggle for existence” was recognised. He theorised that if the environment in which animals lived was harsh enough to be the main enemy, animals might seek ways other than conflict to manage such struggle.

In Russia particularly, perhaps the fight against the elements was so great it had led to co-operation and collaboration, rather than the bloody squabbles that ensued where heat, light, water and food were bountiful.

Like Darwin, Kropotkin returned from his long adventure with his overarching theory not yet fully coalesced. His observations of nature had also unquestionably become entangled with his political views, with each seemingly driving the other.

When the death of his father allowed him to abandon any pretence that he was still in a government role, Kropotkin became a full-on revolutionary, declaring himself an anarchist. He believed that people should live in small, self-organised communities with no central rule, and preached co-operation instead of conflict. He began attending meetings in disguise and continued his writing in exile from within various communes in Europe.

Peter Kropotkin circa 1900
Kropotkin, pictured in 1900, aged 57

When Darwin died in 1882, Kropotkin wrote an obituary for his own revolutionary paper Le Révolté, writing that Darwin’s work surely proved that “animal societies are best organised in the community-anarchist manner”.

Kropotkin went on to write five essays between 1890 and 1896 that would be published as the book Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution in 1902. His research had expanded from the Siberian steppes to consider eusocial insects such as bees and ants, co-operating lizards, hierarchies of hyenas and shoaling fish. “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 evolution,” he wrote.

There were endless tales from around the globe to support his theory – of top predators such as white-tailed eagles crying out to others when a meal was spotted; pelicans hunting together; penguins huddling en masse; and, of course, the great hordes of mammals and birds gathering in indescribable numbers across the Americas – “for all of whom, mutual aid is the rule” [3].

Although he believed intelligence was one of the great advantages that higher animals had in terms of their ability to co-operate, Kropotkin recognised that co-operation occurred “even amidst the lowest animals”.

Burying beetle
Burying beetles (Nicrophorus) are mainly solitary but work together with other individuals when burying large decaying animals for their young to feed on.

He was particularly interested in burying beetles (Nicrophorus), a genus of Coleoptera that bury decaying flesh in the ground for their larvae to feed on. They are mostly solitary insects, but occasionally acquire assistance from other beetles in order to bury lumps of flesh that are too big for them to deal with single-handedly. “As a rule, they live an isolated life,” wrote Kropotkin, “but when one of them has discovered a corpse of a mouse or bird, which it can hardly manage to bury itself, it calls four, six, or 10 other beetles to perform the operation with united efforts.”

Many decades before the complexity of microbial communities was understood, Kropotkin’s speculations about organisms he could not see were also prescient. “We must be prepared to learn, some day, from the students of microscopic pond-life, factors of unconscious mutual support, even in the life of microorganisms.” Microbiologists have since found fascinating examples of co-operation within microbial communities, including mutualism, symbiosis, altruism, and dynamic shifts between selfish and selfless strategies.

The opening chapters of Mutual Aid compile evidence of co-operation in the animal world, but later chapters look at mutual aid among what Kropotkin calls “savages” and “barbarians” and in medieval cities, and how the concept of mutual aid could be applied in Russia and the rest of the world. As such, the book became a fundamental text in anarchist communities, but was also read with cautious interest by many natural scientists. In the second edition of his book Kropotkin writes that “12 years have passed since the first edition and it can be said that its fundamental idea – the idea that mutual aid represents in evolution an important progressive element – begins to be recognised by biologists”.

However, a simplistic view of evolution as ‘survival of the fittest’ in a ruthless, individualistic sense persisted – and to some extent persists to this day in the parlance and understanding of evolution. It would take many decades for co-operation to be fully accounted for in evolutionary theory.

In the 1930s and 1940s ecologists began to study co-operation more methodically, with entomologists such as William Morton Wheeler considering how ants seemed to act together as a ‘superorganism’. During the Cold War game theorists studied the logic behind co-operation and altruism in terms of optimal decision making and behaviour.

It was not until the 1960s and 1970s, when evolutionary biologist William Hamilton explored the genetics of co-operative and altruistic behaviours, that mechanisms were deduced to explain how such behaviour could evolve in families even when it lessens the reproductive fitness of the actor doing it (for example, a squirrel sounding an alarm call that draws attention to itself). Sociobiologist Robert Trivers expanded on this to help explain how co-operation between unrelated individuals could evolve.

Nowadays, co-operation is recognised as fundamental in order for evolution to construct new levels of organisation.

The emergence of genomes, cells, multicellular organisms, social insects, complex ecosystems and, indeed, human society are all based on co-operation. The idea of biological systems working in alignment with others is such a basic aspect of ecology and evolution that it is remarkable to think its importance might have been overlooked for even longer were it not for a nobleman-turned-anarchist wandering the snowy steppes of Siberia.

Kropotkin’s contribution was important, although the interconnectedness of his evidence gathering with his political views would be frowned upon in today’s world; he went looking for something to prove that life was more than “a war of each against all” [3]. Yet the evidence he compiled was undeniably clear, and helped recalibrate Darwin’s great theory when it was on the verge of being irredeemably distorted by politics.

His observations of nature, in turn, only strengthened his radical political views, which determined how he lived the rest of his life. As well as being an interesting case of ‘riches to rags’, there can be few biologists in the history of science who have sought to emulate, so literally, the natural processes they studied.

References

Kropotkin, P, Memoir of a Revolutionist, (Houghton Mifflin, 1899)

Harman, O, & Dietrich, M.R, Dreamers, Visionaries, and Revolutionaries in the Life Sciences, (University of Chicago Press, 2018)

Kropotkin, P, Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution (1902)

Kropotkin’s History of Mutual Aid

Kropotkin, in his book Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution (1902), offers us a historical account of the mutual aid tendency which he argues is evident throughout our society and its history. He begins his study within the animal kingdom, before showing how mutual aid continued to develop in the beginnings of our human society within our distant tribal ancestors. The next steps in his genealogy are found in village communities, medieval cities and also what would have been modern examples between ‘ourselves’.

Professor Kessler first formulated the theory of mutual aid in essays and lectures called On the Law of Mutual Aid in 1880, unfortunately, a year later he died leaving this theory undeveloped. Kessler stated that cooperation was far more important for our evolution and development than the law of mutual struggle, and besides this, there was the ‘law of mutual aid’. He argued, “the more individuals keep together, the more they mutually support each other, and the more are the chances of the species for surviving, as well as for making further progress in its intellectual development”. Kropotkin further developed this idea and traced its roots further back than Kessler, who argued its roots were found in parental feeling. The text can be seen as a reply to Darwin who Kropotkin felt had missed a vital part in his theory of evolution, this being the support and community that animals show one another and which plays such a vital part in their evolution; mutual aid.

Continue reading “Kropotkin’s History of Mutual Aid”