The Anarcho-Utopian Views of Peter Kropotkin

By Sergey Saytanov

When in the late XIX – early XX centuries anti-state ideas became especially popular, Peter Kropotkin created his own anarchist theory of social development [Saytanov, 2014]. In its completed form, it was developed by Kropotkin, primarily in the work The State: Its Historic Role, which later became part of the well-known work Modern Science and Anarchism, and in the book Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution. At the same time, Kropotkin was always convinced that it was impossible to determine in advance precisely, in all details the course of the future evolution of society. “Life will break any conceptual scheme”; he spoke about this as early as 1873 in the program he created for the Tchaikovsky Circle [Markin, 1992: 42].

A great place in this theory, Peter Kropotkin devoted to the problem of mutual influence of the State and society. In accordance with Kropotkin’s anarchic views, “society … is based on the consciousness – at least instinctive – of human solidarity, mutual dependence of people. It is based on the unconscious and half-conscious recognition of the power borrowed by each person from the common practice of mutual aid; on the close dependence of the happiness of each person on the happiness of all” [Kropotkin, 1907: 7].

At the same time, in his book Memoirs of a Revolutionist, published in 1902, Peter Kropotkin gives a detailed description of the future anarchic society. In addition, arguing about the principles of its construction, Kropotkin gradually concludes that nature is a model for building a society on the principles of anarchy. This is because nature, according to Kropotkin, is based on the close intertwining of many relationships and dependencies. In the same way, according to Kropotkin, a human society can also be built.

Therefore, Peter Kropotkin defines the future of an anarchic society as “a society that seeks harmony in a constantly changing balance between a multitude of diverse forces and influences. Moverfore each follows its own path and together with this opportunity, freely manifest and mutually balance and serve as the best guarantee progress, giving people the opportunity to express their energy in this direction. This society is self-organizing, self-regulating, self-governing” [Kropotkin, 1917: 29].

At the same time, according to Peter Kropotkin, the most important condition for the existence of an ideal anarchic society is complete freedom and decentralization, both economic and political, which will determine the continuous development of society. Taking the principle of anti-scientism as a basis, Kropotkin leaves at the base of his anarchist doctrine eternal values of a just social order, where a self-organizing society or a society of harmony is a very important element of his anarchism.

At the same time, according to Kropotkin, “realistic descriptions should be subordinated to an idealistic goal …” [Kropotkin, 1917: 93].

In this period of his life, the scientist Peter Kropotkin argued that “true science and true art cannot be opposed to each other: they are always in agreement” [Kropotkin, 1907: 158]. Is not this combination a manifestation of the harmony of its definition, which was already given by ancient Greek philosophers (“Harmony is the unity of the incompatible, the agreement of the uncoordinated” – Philolai) [Nikulin, 1992: 77].

However faced with the horrors of the Bolshevik revolution [Saytanov, 2017], Peter Kropotkin was forced to admit that his utopian views were far from real life. Moreover, in his last major work, Ethics: Origin and Development, he raises the question of the need for moral education of the person, and not the original inherent nature of anarchic values [Kropotkin, 1991: 30]. It should be said that such a refusal of Kropotkin from previous utopian views was quite natural [Saytanov, 2018].

Therefore, if the early social and political views of Peter Kropotkin can be defined as reformist [Saytanov, 2018], and later as anarcho-reformist [Saytanov, 2014], then the period of his classical anarchism of the late XIX – early XX centuries. [Saytanov, 2016] during the emigration of Kropotkin from Russia, can be defined as anarcho-utopian views.

Thus, it is possible not only to state the existence of utopian ideas in the views of the classical period of anarchism by Peter Kropotkin but also to highlight in his socio-political views the actual period of anarcho-utopianism.

Further Reading

Kropotkin, P, Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution

Kropotkin, P, The State: Its Historical Role

Saytonov, S, Classical and not-classical anarchism of Peter Kropotkin

Saytonov, S, The argumentation of Peter Kropotkin’s anarcho-reformism in his social-political and anarchist views

Saytanov, S, The judgement of the Bolshevik political regime of famous Russian anarchist Peter Kropotkin

Sergey Saytanov is a lecturer of Russian history, Slavic studies and philosophy. He wrote his PhD thesis on Kropotkin entitled The Anarcho-reformism in the socio-political views of Peter Kropotkin. For more information click here.

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