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Book Title: Memoirs of a Revolutionist|
The author of the book: Pyotr Kropotkin
Edition: Fredonia Books (NL)
Format files: PDF
The size of the: 410 KB
City - Country: No data
Date of issue: April 1st 2002
ISBN 13: 9781589637702
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Reader ratings: 7.9
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First serialized in an American (!) magazine as ‘Autobiography of a Revolutionist’, this account of his life by the anarchist, pacifist and scientist Peter Kropotkin (1842-1921) was published in England in 1899. It draws an exquisite depiction of tsarist Russia under the rule of tsar Alexander II (1855-1881 ), the movements advocating social and political change in Russia at that time and the development of socialist and anarchist activities and ideology in Switzerland, France and England, in the aftermath of the crushing of the Paris Commune in 1871.
Both the man himself, his ideas and his first hand portrayal of the mid 19th century Russian and European social fermentations make this a compelling read, a document of historical interest, highly inspiring, whatever one’s political adherence.
Kropotkin rises from his writings almost an atheist saint, a magnanimous, engaging, kindhearted man, highly intelligent and erudite, a lover of poetry, art and literature.
From aristocratic descent, like Bakunin, Kropotkin relates on the shaping of his mind through his growing social consciousness, first as a moderate liberalist, trying to change the system from within in Siberia, rejecting the military career expected from him by his family and class, over embracing socialism, to finally dedicating his life to the benefit of the anarchist movement, both in word and deed, abandoning a promising career as a scientist and geographer:
Science is an excellent thing. I knew its joys and valued them,—perhaps more than many of my colleagues did. (…). But what right had I to these highest joys, when all around me was nothing but misery and struggle for a mouldy bit of bread; when whatsoever I should spend to enable me to live in that world of higher emotions must needs be taken from the very mouths of those who grew the wheat and had not bread enough for their children? From somebody’s mouth it must be taken, because the aggregate production of mankind remains still so low.
Knowledge is an immense power. Man must know. But we already know much! What if that knowledge—and only that—should become the possession of all? Would not science itself progress in leaps, and cause mankind to make strides in production, invention, and social creation, of which we are hardly in a condition now to measure the speed?
The masses want to know: they are willing to learn; they can learn. There, on the crest of that immense moraine which runs between the lakes, as if giants had heaped it up in a hurry to connect the two shores, there stands a Finnish peasant plunged in contemplation of the beautiful lakes, studded with islands, which lie before him. Not one of these peasants, poor and downtrodden though they may be, will pass this spot without stopping to admire the scene. Or there, on the shore of a lake, stands another peasant, and sings something so beautiful that the best musician would envy him his melody, for its feeling and its meditative power. Both deeply feel, both meditate, both think; they are ready to widen their knowledge,—only give it to them, only give them the means of getting leisure.
This is the direction in which, and these are the kind of people for whom, I must work. All those sonorous phrases about making mankind progress, while at the same time the progress-makers stand aloof from those whom they pretend to push onwards, are mere sophisms made up by minds anxious to shake off a fretting contradiction.”
There are no cynicism or bitterness in his words, neither sentimentality or romanticizing of the revolutionary struggle - however his glozing over the disputes in the radical factions - nor is it agit-prop for the converted. I admire the courage, hope and unflagging belief in mankind these memoirs exhale. At the risk to be cast away as some beate hagiographer of Kropotkin, I see a great level of cuddliness in this charming, sensitive man. Without detracting his uniqueness, I could quite endorse Nicolas Walter ‘s observation in the preface that ‘we need more Kropotkins’.
Almost exclusively concentrating on his life in the outside world and his thoughts, the memoirs do not disclose on his family life, except for his relationship with his brother. Rather impressive are his surprisingly topical insights on the atrocities of the penal system and the paradoxical effects of prisons (“universities of crime, maintained by the state”), as well as his remarkable protofeminist views (whereas other revolutionary thinkers like Proudhon and Rousseau are commonly known as notorious misogynists). Also interesting is his virulent rejection of the then emerging curse of social Darwinism, triggering him to write his major work Mutual Aid (1902), in which he argued that, despite the Darwinian concept of the survival of the fittest, cooperation rather than conflict is the chief factor in the evolution of species, among humans as well as animals. Providing abundant examples from the animal world, he stated that sociability is a dominant feature at every level, mutual aid the rule rather than the exception.
As Kropotkin’s memoirs cover only a part of his assiduous and laborious life, focusing largely on the first 45 years, touching only roughly the years of exile in England and not comprising his most important works he was yet to write after 1886, it is worthwhile to read a concise survey on his life, thoughts and works that extends to his death in 1921; Kropotkin: The Anarchist Formerly Known as Prince is a good supplementary read, e.g. revealing that Kropotkin fell from grace with his fellow anarchist travellers, tumbling down from his hero-like internationalist and pacifistic pedestal by supporting the Allies (thus even Tsarist Russia), at the outbreak of WWI in 1914 (till the withdrawal of Russia from the war with the seizure of power by the Bolsheviks in 1917) and his – disregarded - warnings for the tyranny of state socialism and bureaucracy in 1919.
Imagine him, working on some geographical and geological contributions to the Encyclopaedia Britannica during his captivity in French prisons, or trying to keep sane by reading and writing on his glacial theory while imprisoned in the gloomy Peter and Paul Fortress, recalling the ominous legend of the unfortunate imposter princess Tarakanova, perishing there amongst the fleeing rats, as in the dramatic painting by Konstantin Flavitsky in 1864.
Nicolas Walter equated Kropotkin’s position on later age to Voltaire’s and Tolstoy’s before and Pasternak’s and Russell’s after him: a subversive intellectual who was too obstinate to tame and too famous to silence, and who was important no longer for what he actually said or did as for what he stood for.
A truly fascinating man.
The full text of the memoirs can be found here.
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Read information about the authorPyotr Alexeyevich Kropotkin (Пётр Алексеевич Кропоткин, other spelling: Peter Kropotkin) was a geographer, a zoologist, and one of Russia's foremost anarchists. 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.
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