Peter Kropotkin


Peter Kropotkin : biography

21 December 1842 – 8 February 1921

In Moscow, Kropotkin had developed an interest in the condition of the peasantry, and this interest increased as he grew older. Although his work as a page for Tsar Alexander II made Kropotkin sceptical about the tsar’s "liberal" reputation, Kropotkin was greatly pleased by the tsar’s decision to emancipate the serfs in 1861. In St. Petersburg, he read widely on his own account, and gave special attention to the works of the French encyclopædists and to French history. The years 1857-1861 witnessed a growth in the intellectual forces of Russia, and Kropotkin came under the influence of the new liberal-revolutionary literature, which largely expressed his own aspirations.

In 1862, Kropotkin was promoted from the Corps of Pages to the army. The members of the corps had the prescriptive right to choose the regiment to which they would be attached. For some time, he was aide de camp to the governor of Transbaikalia at Chita. Later he was appointed attaché for Cossack affairs to the governor-general of East Siberia at Irkutsk.

Geographical expeditions in Siberia

Administrative work was scarce, and in 1864 Kropotkin accepted charge of a geographical survey expedition, crossing North Manchuria from Transbaikalia to the Amur, and soon was attached to another expedition which proceeded up the Sungari River into the heart of Manchuria. The expeditions yielded valuable geographical results. The impossibility of obtaining any real administrative reforms in Siberia now induced Kropotkin to devote himself almost entirely to scientific exploration, in which he continued to be highly successful.

In 1866, Kropotkin began reading the works of the French anarchist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, and other political thinkers such as John Stuart Mill and Alexander Herzen. These readings, along with his experiences amongst the peasantry in Siberia, led him to declare himself an anarchist by 1872.

In 1867, Kropotkin quit the army and returned to St. Petersburg, where he entered the university to study mathematics, becoming at the same time secretary to the geography section of the Russian Geographical Society. This action caused his father to disinherit him, "leaving him a ‘prince’ with no visible means of support."Riggenbach, Jeff (2011-03-04) , Mises Institute In 1871, he explored the glacial deposits of Finland and Sweden for the Society. In 1873, he published an important contribution to science, a map and paper in which he showed that the existing maps entirely misrepresented the physical features of Asia; the main structural lines were in fact from southwest to northeast, not from north to south or from east to west as had been previously supposed. During this work, he was offered the secretaryship of the Society, but he had decided that it was his duty not to work at fresh discoveries but to aid in diffusing existing knowledge among the people at large. Accordingly, he refused the offer and returned to St. Petersburg, where he joined the revolutionary party.

Activism in Switzerland and France

Kropotkin visited Switzerland in 1872 and became a member of the International Workingmen’s Association (IWA) at Geneva. It was there that he found that he did not like IWA’s style of socialism. Instead, he studied the programme of the more radical Jura federation at Neuchâtel and spent time in the company of the leading members, and adopted the creed of anarchism.

On returning to Russia, Kropotkin’s friend Dmitri Klements introduced him to the Circle of Tchaikovsky, a socialist/populist group that had been created in 1872. Kropotkin worked to spread revolutionary propaganda amongst peasants and workers, and acted as a bridge between the Circle and the aristocracy. Throughout this period, Kropotkin maintained his position within the Geographical Society in order to provide cover for his activities.

In 1874 Kropotkin was arrested and imprisoned in the Peter and Paul Fortress for subversive political activity, as a result of his work with the Circle of Tchaikovsky. Because of his aristocratic background, he was granted special privileges while in prison, such as being allowed to continue his geographical work in his cell. He delivered his report on the subject of the Ice Age, where he argued that it had taken place in not as distant a past as originally thought. In 1876, just before his trial, Kropotkin was moved to a low-security prison in St. Petersburg, from which he escaped with the assistance of his friends. On the night of the escape, Kropotkin and his friends celebrated by dining in one of the finest restaurants in St. Petersburg, assuming correctly that the police would not think to look for them there. After this, he boarded a boat, and headed to England. After a short stay there, he moved to Switzerland where he joined the Jura Federation. In 1877 he moved to Paris, where he helped start the socialist movement. In 1878 he returned to Switzerland where he edited the Jura Federation’s revolutionary newspaper Le Révolté, and published various revolutionary pamphlets. He was outspoken in his beliefs that the peasants were being treated unfairly and deserved to have the same land as the lords.