Peter Kropotkin was definitely a dreamer, but he backed it up with activism, he was jailed by the Paris reactionaries for his revolutionary activities. As a man born of the nobility it wasn’t hardship or hunger that brought him to socialism, but rather moralism and a sense of justice. As much as anyone he can be credited with getting the socialistic ball rolling in mid-nineteenth century France, but he was never happy with the socialism on offer, it seemed to him too authoritarian, and to him it was supposed to be about freeing people rather than simply changing their bonds.
This is what caused him to advocate his brand of anarchist-communism, a surprising marriage of Adam Smithian-style moral free-trade and production, but without capitalists, bosses and managers. Instead he advocated self-organisation, self government and the equal and free consumption of products according to need.
In his pamphlet The Place Of Anarchism In Socialistic Evolution (snappy title!), he draws this picture of a self-organised society where the actual producers of consumer goods, art and thought, govern themselves and each other in mutual association. It is a society dispensing with the middleman, the manager and the exploiter. It could read as the utopian musings of any nineteenth-century malcontent, but this is Kropotkin’s particular view and he expresses it eloquently. His logic is simple but forceful, his conclusions sharp. When he starts to reach his moral crescendo he manages to stop himself from falling into mawkishness and gets back to his sober points. He’s optimistic about the certainty of a revolution, though arguably the revolution he predicted for the coming 20th century did not arrive.
Many current economists probably consider him to be the typical dreamy utopian, and such a broad theoretical outline is easily characterised as such, but he stands between the, often opposing, views of communal economic organisation and free-production and exchange. This probably explains why anarchism has been variously claimed by socialists, traditionally, and more recently appropriated and made to fit a version of laissez-faire economic theory. By reading his pamphlet however, it’s clear where Kropotkin inclines. Just a cursory reading of the pamphlet shows some striking similarities to to current problems, showing that in some respects the progress of the last century hasn’t eliminated these same old problems.
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