Peter Kropotkin: The Anarchist Prince

On February 18, we kick off the new year with the anarchist formerly known as Prince. Peter Kropotkin was “the most systematic and profound anarchist thinker of the nineteenth century,” according to Peter Marshall.1 Geographer, theorist, and reluctant aristocrat, Kropotkin was one of the first truly international celebrities—known to the European and American publics as a brilliant scientist who just happened to hold some unconventional political views. At the time of his death, the Royal Geographic Society published an obituary that referenced Kropotkin’s politics only “to express regret that his absorption in [anarchism] seriously diminished the services which otherwise he might have rendered to Geography.”2 Notwithstanding such objections, Kropotkin’s anarchist vision is rooted in his scientism insofar as he understood his politics as directly related to his commitment to rational empiricism. How does one go about creating a society based on the principle “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need”?

Because Kropotkin is quite commonly read, we will not emphasize a specific book or selection of readings and instead attempt to address major themes. Kropotkin’s most important text on anarchism is The Conquest of Bread, in which he lays out the details of what a future society might look like. Mutual Aid is his contribution to evolutionary theory, arguing that cooperation and mutual aid among animals and humans are the most important factors contributing to the evolution and survival of species. His memoirs, serialized for The Atlantic at the time, are also superb and one can skim through his numerous and topically diverse articles.

Readings:

Biographies & Secondary Analysis:

Films:

The funeral of Peter Kropotkin, February 1921—the last public showing of anarchism in revolutionary Russia before the Bolsheviks crushed the remnants of the movement.

A short BBC segment on Kropotkin.

February 18, 2015 @ 7:00 PM
CUNY Graduate Center
Department of Political Science
365 5th Ave. Room 5200.07
New York, NY 10016

Facebook event page.

1. Peter Marshall, Demanding the Impossible: A History of Anarchism (New York: PM Press, 2010), 309.

2. J. S. K. “Obituary: Prince Kropotkin.” The Geographical Journal 57, no. 4 (1921): 317.

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