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Peter (Pyotr) Alexeyevich Kropotkin ( ) (9 December, 1842 - 8 February, 1921) was a geographer, a zoologist, and one of Russiamarker's foremost anarchist. One of the first advocates of anarchist communism, Kropotkin advocated a communist society free from central government. Because of his title of prince, he was known by some as "the Anarchist Prince". Some contemporaries saw him as leading a near perfect life, including Oscar Wilde, who described him as "a man with a soul of that beautiful white Christ which seems coming out of Russia." He wrote many books, pamphlets and articles, the most prominent being The Conquest of Bread and Fields, Factories and Workshops, and his principal scientific offering, Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution. He was also a contributor to the Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition.


Early life

Peter (or Pyotr) Kropotkin was born in Moscowmarker. His father, Prince Alexei Petrovich Kropotkin, owned large tracts of land and nearly 1200 "souls" (male serfs) in three provinces. Kropotkin's male line traced to the legendary prince Rurik; his mother, Yekaterina Nikolaevna Sulima, was the daughter of a Russian general. "[U]nder the influence of republican teachings," he dropped his princely title at the age of twelve, and "even rebuked his friends, when they so referred to him."

In 1857, at age 15, Kropotkin entered the Corps of Pages at St. Petersburgmarker. Only 150 boys — mostly children of nobility belonging to the court — were educated in this privileged corps, which combined the character of a military school endowed with special rights and of a court institution attached to the imperial household. Kropotkin's memoirs detail the hazing and other abuse of pages for which the Corps had become notorious.

In Moscow, Kropotkin had developed an interest in the condition of the peasantry, and this interest increased as he grew older. 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 rich 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. Kropotkin had never wished for a military career, but, as he did not have the means to enter St. Petersburg University, he elected to join a Siberianmarker Cossack regiment in the recently annexed Amur Oblastmarker district, where there were prospects of administrative work. For some time, he was aide de camp to the governor of Transbaikaliamarker at Chitamarker. Later he was appointed attaché for Cossack affairs to the governor-general of East Siberia at Irkutskmarker.


Kropotkin circa 1870
Administrative work was scarce, and in 1864 Kropotkin accepted charge of a geographical survey expedition, crossing North Manchuria from Transbaikaliamarker to the Amurmarker, and soon was attached to another expedition which proceeded up the Sungari Rivermarker into the heart of Manchuria. The expeditions yielded very valuable geographical results. The impossibility of obtaining any real administrative reforms in Siberiamarker now induced Kropotkin to devote himself almost entirely to scientific exploration, in which he continued to be highly successful.

In 1867, he quit the army and returned to St. Petersburg, where he entered the university, becoming at the same time secretary to the geography section of the Russian Geographical Society. In 1871, he explored the glacial deposits of Finlandmarker and Swedenmarker for the Society. In 1873, he published an important contribution to science, a map and paper in which he proved that the existing maps entirely misrepresented the physical features of Asia; the main structural lines were in fact from south-west to north-east, 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.


He visited Switzerlandmarker in 1872 and became a member of the International Workingmen's Association at Genevamarker. But he did not like IWA's style of socialism. Instead, he studied the programme of the more radical Jura federation at Neuchâtelmarker and spent time in the company of the leading members, and definitely adopted the creed of anarchism. On returning to Russia, he took an active part in spreading revolutionary propaganda through the nihilist-led Circle of Tchaikovsky.

Kropotkin circa 1900
In 1873, Kropotkin was arrested and imprisoned in the Peter and Paul Fortressmarker. He gained notoriety for his widely publicized escape from the prison in 1876, after which he went to Englandmarker, moving after a short stay to Switzerland, where he joined the Jura Federation. In 1877, he moved to Parismarker, where he helped to start the socialist movement. In 1878 he returned to Switzerland, where he edited for Jura Federation's revolutionary newspaper Le Révolté, and published various revolutionary pamphlets. He was a very out-going speaker on his beliefs that the peasants were being treated unfairly and deserved to have the same land as the Lords

In 1881, shortly after the assassination of the Tsar Alexander II, the Swiss government expelled Kropotkin from Switzerland. After a short stay at Thonon (Savoy), he went to Londonmarker, where he stayed nearly a year, and returned to Thonon in late 1882. Soon he was arrested by the French government, tried at Lyonmarker, and sentenced by a police-court magistrate (under a special law passed on the fall of the Paris Commune) to five years' imprisonment, on the ground that he had belonged to the IWA (1883). But the French Chamber repeatedly agitated on his behalf, and he was released in 1886. He settled near London, living at various times in Harrowmarker where his daughter, Alexandra, was born Ealingmarker and Bromleymarker. He also lived for a number of years in Brightonmarker. . While living in London, Kropotkin became friends with a number of prominent English-speaking socialists, including William Morris and George Bernard Shaw.

In 1902 Kropotkin published the book Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution, which provided an alternative view on animal and human survival, beyond the claims of 'Survival of the Fittest' proffered at the time by some "social Darwinists", such as Francis Galton.

Kropotkin's authority as a writer on Russia is generally acknowledged, and he contributed to many articles in the Encyclopædia Britannica, including an entry on anarchism in the 1911 edition (see external links, below). Most of the other articles (about 90) are about various aspects of Russian geography.

Kropotkin returned to Russia after the February Revolution and was offered the ministry of education in the provisional government, but he rejected the post. His enthusiasm turned to disappointment when the Bolsheviks seized power. "This buries the revolution," he said. He thought that the Bolsheviks had shown how the revolution was not to be made — by authoritarian rather than libertarian methods.

He died on February 8, 1921 in the city of Dmitrovmarker, Moscow province and was buried at the Novodevichy Cemeterymarker, Moscow. Anarchists marched in his funeral procession carrying banners with anti-Bolshevik slogans, at Lenin's approval, since he feared new unrest otherwise. This was the last march by anarchists until 1987, when glasnost saw them hold the first open, free protest against Bolshevik state Communism for over sixty years in Moscow.


  • 1842 - born in Moscow, Russia, on December 9.
  • 1857 - joins the Corps of Pages where he begins to develop a rebellious reputation.
  • 1858 - Peter's early writings show interest in political economy and statistics; begins contact with "real" peasants.
  • 1861 - Peter has his first prison experience as a result of participating in a student protest.
  • 1862 - becomes disillusioned with royalty when as page de chambre to the tsar he witnesses the extravagances of court life.
  • 1862-1867 - at his own request serves with the military in Siberia. Witnesses the living conditions there, and the unwillingness of the corrupt administration to do anything to improve this.
  • 1868-1870 - pursues survey and geographical studies.
  • 1871 - becomes interested in the workers' movement and the events surrounding the Paris Commune.
  • 1872 - travels to Switzerland, where he joins the International; returns to Russia with a quantity of prohibited socialist literature.
  • 1873 - as a member of the Chaikovskii Circle, he helps with rewriting pamphlets in a way that can be understood by the uneducated; he shows great ability for communicating with the workers.
  • 1874 - Peter is imprisoned in the Peter and Paul Fortressmarker because of his revolutionary activities. At the intervention of the Geographical Society, he is given special dispensation to work on a paper on glacial periods.
  • 1876 - escapes from a military hospital and moves to England.
  • 1877 - returns to Switzerland to work with the Jura Federation. Attends the last meeting of the First International in Ghent.
  • 1881 - attends the International Anarchist congress in London. In his propaganda of the deed he supports the assassination of Tsar Alexander II on the grounds that an explosion is far more effective than a vote in encouraging the workers to revolution. This gets him kicked out of Switzerland. The Russian government is embarrassed when he discovers a plot to assassinate him in London.
  • 1882 - shortly after moving to France he is arrested for his work in The First International and sentenced to five years in prison. He stays there until 1886 when he is released on condition that he leave France.
  • 1886 - returns to England. Learns of his brother Alexander's suicide in Siberian exile for political activity. Becomes co-founder of British anarchist magazine Freedom.
  • 1890s - spends most of his time writing. Visits Canada and the United States in 1897. The Atlantic Monthly agrees to publish his memoirs. In his books he attempts to develop an anarchist-communist view of society.
  • 1901-1909 - writes material in Russian for readers in his homeland. He was very disappointed by the failure of the 1905 revolution.
  • 1909-1914 - returns to Switzerland on condition that he refrain from anarchist activities. Tries to publicize the massacre of 270 workers at the Lena gold mines, but this activity is cut short by World War I. He then moved to the United Kingdommarker, where he spent some time in the Brightonmarker area.
  • 1914-1917 - actively supports the war against Germany, and coauthors the Manifesto of the Sixteen. This position, a strange and questionable one for an anarchist to take, alienated him from many of his associates, particularly Errico Malatesta.
  • 1917 - returns to Petrograd where he helps the Kerensky government to formulate policy. He curtails his activity when the Bolsheviks come to power.
  • 1921 - his funeral at the Novodevichy Cemeterymarker, with Lenin's approval, becomes the last mass gathering of anarchists in Russia until 1987.




  • "Research on the Ice age", Notices of the Imperial Russian Geographical Society, 1876.
  • "The desiccation of Eur-Asia", Geographical Journal, 23 (1904), 722-741.
  • Mr. Mackinder; Mr. Ravenstein; Dr. Herbertson; Prince Kropotkin; Mr. Andrews; Cobden Sanderson; Elisée Reclus, "On Spherical Maps and Reliefs: Discussion", The Geographical Journal, Vol. 22, No. 3. (Sep., 1903), pp. 294-299, JSTOR
  • "Baron Toll", The Geographical Journal, Vol. 23, No. 6. (Jun., 1904), pp. 770-772, JSTOR
  • "The population of Russia", The Geographical Journal, Vol. 10, No. 2. (Aug., 1897), pp. 196-202, JSTOR
  • "The old beds of the Amu-Daria", The Geographical Journal, Vol. 12, No. 3. (Sep., 1898), pp. 306-310, JSTOR


See also


Further reading

  • The Anarchists by James Joll (2nd ed.) (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1980) LCCN 80-010503. ISBN 0674036417. [historical book]
  • The Anarchist Prince: A Biographical Study of Peter Kropotkin by George Woodcock & Ivan Avakumovic (1950 & 1971).
  • "Mutual Aid and the Foraging Mode of Thought: Re-reading Kropotkin on the Khoisan" by Barnard Alan, Social Evolution & History, Vol. 3, No. 1 (March 2004), pages 3–21.
  • Kropotkin: the Politics of Community by Brian Morris (Humanity Press, 2004)
  • The Anarchist Geographer: an Introduction to the Life of Peter Kropotkin by Brian Morris (Genge Press, 2007)
  • Basic Kropotkin: Kropotkin and the History of Anarchism by Brian Morris, Anarchist Communist Editions pamphlet no.17 (The Anarchist Federation, October 2008).
  • S.J.Gould: Kropotkin was no crackpot. Natural History 106 (June 1997): 12-21.

External links

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